Saving India’s Big Cats

The roar of Krithi Karanth is diminutive but mighty. Last year the Supreme Court of India cited findings by the 34-year-old conservation biologist in a landmark case that overturned a ban on visiting tiger sanctuaries in favor of smart regulations promoting responsible tourism.

Consider it the moment Karanth earned her stripes. Make that more stripes: As a young girl in Karnataka, Karanth spent her summers tracking tigers, leopards, and other predators with her father and other esteemed scientists.

Later she earned advanced degrees from Yale, Duke, and Columbia; two years ago, Karanth won National Geographic’s 10,000th research grant and now the Society counts her among the esteemed alumni of its Emerging Explorers program. Based in Bangalore, she probes bound-​aries—between humans and animals as well as those around this male-dominated field.

Hear more about how this native daughter is revolutionizing India’s approach to wildlife conservation and get the inside scoop on her favorite place in the world–in her own words.

Wild Child

A tiger stands in the brush in Tadoba National Park, India. (Photograph by Rana & Sugandhi, Flickr)

A tiger stands in the brush in Tadoba National Park, India. (Photograph by Rana & Sugandhi, Flickr)

My most vivid early memories are sitting quietly with my dad in a park watchtower at Nagarhole National Park, for five or six hours at a time with only binoculars. At the end of the day—if I behaved—he’d drive me through the jungle. That’s what I looked forward to all day. I saw my first leopard when I was around one and a half. I don’t go looking for tigers and leopards, but it’s a rush to see one.

Stress Levels

Three million Indians now have disposable incomes for wildlife holidays. That puts a lot of pressure on our parks. Tadoba National Park in central India and Nagarhole and Bandipur in the Western Ghats of the south provide good chances of seeing a tiger, in a way that doesn’t harass it.

Eye of the Tiger

People need to be willing to say, “If I see a tiger, I’m lucky”—not “my trip is successful only if I see one.” India also has leopards, elephants, the incredible Asiatic wild dog, critically endangered frogs, a huge diversity of birds.

Greatest Show

Around a hundred years ago, India was like Africa in terms of large mammals, but our population boom and economic growth have pushed a lot of wildlife into smaller pockets. Yet India still has charismatic animals as well as millions of people. No other place on Earth supports all these fantastic species and also this many people tolerating them.

Mountain Time

I could hike the Western Ghats mountain range for days. The views go on endlessly, in extraordinary shades of blue and green. It’s one of India’s biodiversity hotspots, with 20 percent of the country’s tigers, the largest number of Asian elephants, three bear species, leopards.

Lush forests cover the Western Ghats mountain range (Photograph by ramanathan, Flickr)

Lush forests cover the Western Ghats mountain range (Photograph by ramanathan, Flickr)

Most people come to India between October and March, but it’s phenomenal to experience summer monsoons in the Ghats. It’s not for people who can’t handle leeches or muddy boots, though.

Capturing Predators

So many tourists walk around with their fancy cameras, obsessed with getting the perfect photograph. They forget to watch, and to see other wildlife. They forget to live the experience.

Katie Knorovsky is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her on Twitter @TravKatieK.

Comments

  1. a a vijay kumar
    kakinada, India
    December 16, 2013, 9:17 am

    India’s forests are dwindling.The limited space cannot hold more big cats. So more prey availability may make big cats to tolerate neighbors.So provide fodder to herbivores so that they multiply and more food is available for the carnivores.

  2. a a vijay kumar
    kakinada, India
    December 16, 2013, 9:11 am

    I envy her. I am a zoology graduate but got stuck in a railway job. I wish i could do something like her.i appreciate her devotion to wild life rescue.More people like her are needed to save India’s wildlife. Good luck to her.!

  3. David Carl
    Philadelphia, PA, USA
    December 14, 2013, 6:11 pm

    Wonderful work done. The religious beliefs that have led to acceptance of the wonders of nature in India are an incredible thing.

  4. Rajdeep
    mumbai
    December 13, 2013, 2:36 am

    Thanks Katie,
    For sharing your experience of India tour with us. I am also planing a wild life tour in India only and get booked my tour with a travel agency Magic Holidays.
    Although i live in india but haven’t went for these type of tour so would you like to suggest something which place i should go first.

  5. Presley
    United States
    December 12, 2013, 1:28 pm

    I enjoyed this story a lot. I love how a person can get so caught up in the beauty of something and get to have experiences out of this world. While others are too busy with their cameras.