• Real-World Geography: Dr. Krithi Karanth
    Krithi Karanth is a conservation biologist.

    Photograph by Sandesh Kadur

    By Alyssa Samson

    Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Dr. Krithi Karanth is a 2012 Emerging Explorer. She works in her native India, where more than a billion people live with wildlife, including elephants, monkeys, and endangered Asiatic lions and tigers.

    EARLY WORK

    Most toddlers spot their first tiger behind glass in a public zoo, but not Krithi. At age three, she was already in the jungle with her father, a conservationist gathering data on the tigers of India.

    “I grew up spending a lot of my time in parks throughout India, tagging along with him and watching tigers at a very young age,” she says.

    As Krithi got older, she shied away from conservation, thinking she would go into history or law. “But, I had a series of good biology and geography teachers and those are my two loves,” she says. “I got into geography first, because I love maps and I love looking at the world.”

    A field project in the Western Ghats sparked her true passion for conservation, a passion that may have now latched onto her young daughter.

    “My daughter is 5 years old and loves going out to the field!” Krithi says.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “I feel like the results we come up with really make a difference to either wildlife or people, and both have an impact in the real world. To me, that’s what gives me my kicks.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    Krithi says that there are two things that can make her career challenging at times. “One is being a woman,” she says. “You have qualifications, but people do not take you seriously. You are constantly butting heads, and it takes a long time for people to value what you are saying.

    “The other thing is, I think most scientists fail at communication. I have learned that if I don’t write up my stuff in popular versions and don’t get other people involved in my work, ultimately, it’s just me talking to 500 academics and it’s really not going to make a difference.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “I think geography is exploring the world. I find it funny that geography was kind of going downhill as a discipline. Now, thanks to GIS and remote sensing, whatever your views are, it has come back out and it has resurrected the discipline a little bit.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Krithi documents the shared landscape of India’s wildlife and rural settlements. She doesn’t work alone, however. Krithi is one of many conservationists who rely on citizen science. Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research.

    With the help of citizen scientists—200 to 300 people within the past year—Krithi has been able to travel to thousands of villages in India. She and her team of volunteers (mostly urban Indians, Krithi notes) collect data on how rural Indians coexist with wildlife. These data will be used to strengthen protection for parks, encourage cultural tolerance for wildlife, and compensate people suffering from conflict with animals (mostly crop destruction).

    “I combine the technology with doing interviews and surveys about the villages, asking people about conflict or other issues that we are interested in,” she says. “Ultimately, when we download the points on a map and show the volunteers the areas on a map of where they went, everyone gets into it. In that sense, geography is very much alive. It’s not just technology, there is meaning to that technology.”

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CONSERVATION BIOLOGIST

    Krithi recommends putting down your phone or iPad every so often and getting out there to explore the world around you. She encourages going for a walk or a hike, while seeing unknown places and meeting new people.

    GET INVOLVED

    “You don’t have to sit back and say ‘I can’t do anything’,” Krithi says. “Little things like posting things on social media, posting a picture, or sending a text message, they all have a huge power.” 

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    academic Adjective

    person or thing having to do with school, particularly college or university education.

    biology Noun

    study of living things.

    citizen science Noun

    science project or program where volunteers who are not scientists conduct surveys, take measurements, or record observations.

    Encyclopedic Entry: citizen science
    compensate Verb

    to make up for a loss or injury, usually in money, goods, or services.

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    conservationist Noun

    person who works to preserve natural habitats.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    data Plural Noun

    (singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

    discipline Noun

    field of study.

    Emerging Explorer Noun

    an adventurer, scientist, innovator, or storyteller recognized by National Geographic for their visionary work while still early in their careers.

    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    jungle Noun

    tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

    landscape Noun

    the geographic features of a region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landscape
    map Noun

    symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: map
    remote sensing Noun

    methods of information-gathering about the Earth's surface from a distance.

    resurrect Verb

    to bring back to life.

    rural area Noun

    regions with low population density and large amounts of undeveloped land. Also called "the country."

    Encyclopedic Entry: rural area
    social media Plural Noun

    online means of communication used by people to develop social and professional contacts.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    tolerance Noun

    fair and respectful attitude toward others and their way of life.

    urban Adjective

    having to do with city life.

    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village
    Western Ghats Noun

    mountain range in western India.

    zoo Noun

    place where animals are kept for exhibition.

    Encyclopedic Entry: zoo
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