For her work in alleviating human-wildlife conflict, conservationist Krithi Karanth was named by Rolex as one of its Laureates in the 2019 Rolex Awards for Enterprise.

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Tell us more about the work you do.

I’ve spent the last 21 years being a scientist, a conservationist and an educator. Four years ago, Wild Seve was founded to manage the conflict between humans and wildlife. It’s as simple as a toll-free number that people can call when they have a leopard on their roof, or an elephant destroying their crops. Our field staff will look at the damage to build the documentation and file the claim to submit to the government for compensation. While we were doing this, I also noticed that the kids living on the edges of our wildlife parks were either indifferent to the fact that they live next to one of the world’s highest population of tigers and elephants, or lived in fear. So we designed a conservation education programme, Wild Shaale, which we bring to rural village schools across India. We get the children excited about wildlife and build empathy. We also provide tips on what they should do if they are in a conflict situation. Both programmes can be implemented in any country with big animals.
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What was the moment that you decided Wild Seve was something that needed to exist?

The first 10 years of my career was spent on getting recognised for doing good research, but frustration started to creep in. Does the science really matter? Does it change reality? Because the problems continued to persist. That’s when I decided that the science has to translate to change. I spent about seven years travelling across India, speaking with people. I realised that we have very high densities of people living right next to our wildlife parks and it gave rise to serious problems. We are fortunate that the Indian government has set up a compensation fund to help people. It just wasn’t delivering its services as efficiently as it could. Compensation is not the only way to go [about this], but it’s one way to, at least in the short term, stop people from killing the animals because they’re frustrated and angry. That’s when I said we’ve got to start coming up with simple solutions that can assist millions of people and not just five people in one place.
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How has life changed for you since you were named a Rolex Awards for Enterprise Laureate last year?

For me, the most valuable part is the Rolex community.  You have a set of people you can reach out to and do new exciting things with for the rest of your life.

Has the award made a tangible difference to your work?

It has definitely put it on another level in terms of visibility and awareness, and I hope this will bring about collaborations and partnerships in other parts of the world. It’s a working model. We’ve tried and tested it, fixed all the issues—especially the school programme—so we can move it. We’re building more curriculum because we want to work in places where there are different animals. You can’t be talking about tigers and elephants to kids who see wolves and bears. You have to adapt it and customise it, and that takes a little bit of time. But overall, it’s very doable.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room

From top: Conservation biologist Krithi Karanth. Karanth out on the field with her Wild Seve team. An elephant at India’s Bandipur National Park. Gold and diamond Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watch; gold and diamond Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36 watch, $48,660, Rolex