Award-Winning Female Conservationist Says Women 'Have To Work Ten Times Harder'

Today the National Geographic Society announced the recipient of the 10,000th grant it's given in its 123-year history: 32-year-old conservation biologist Krithi Karanth. We spoke with Dr. Karanth about her work, and about what it's like to be a female scientist both in the US and her native India.

According to the NGS, Karanth specializes in "human dimensions of conservation, such as human-wildlife conflicts, land use change and people-park relationships." The grant will enable her to study conflicts between humans and animals in five of India's parks. When I asked her for her thoughts on balancing human needs and environmental protection, she responded,

India has just 3% of its land under protected areas, and there are local communities that live in and around these parks, many of whose lives are directly dependent on the parks. Most often they live in abysmal conditions: no water, no electricity, no schools, no hospitals, intense conflicts, losing crops, livestock and facing injury and death. They want the same quality of life as us, and we have no right to deny them these opportunities. So when they request our help to relocate outside and support to establish new lives, it is our responsibility to help them.

Karanth says that growing up, being a girl never held her back — "my parents gave me a lot of freedom as a child in India." But in her career as a scientist, she has run into discrimination:

[P]rofessionally I have faced difficulties both in India and the US as a woman. There is still a significant gap between men and women in these disciplines — when you deal with officials it is very hard for them to take women seriously and you have to work ten times harder.

Wildlife and conservation biology are still male-dominated disciplines in India compared to the west, so it is still a challenge to accomplish things in the field.

Still, she advises girls interested in science to forge ahead: "If science is your passion, pursue it. There is nothing like being able to do what you love. Then it becomes a part of you rather than a job." With the National Geographic grant, Karanth will be able to pursue her passion — and the people and animals of India will hopefully benefit from her work.

And The 10,000th National Geographic Grant Goes To… [National Geographic Society]