the animals next door

Two conservationists are finding novel ways to safeguard wildlife when it comes in contact with human communities.

This article reports on the impact of Rolex’s Perpetual Planet Initiative, which supports outstanding individuals and organizations that are implementing novel solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. The initiative includes the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, a program that for over four decades has recognized changemakers from around the world, including Krithi Karanth and Olivier Nsengimana, who are featured in this story.

in a jungle in southwest India, a young girl named Krithi stands in a tall tower that nearly touches the dense tree canopy. Her father hands her his pair of hefty binoculars and points; there’s rustling on the forest floor below them. After struggling to adjust the focus, she watches in amazement as a large tiger strolls into view. 

Thousands of miles away, on the outskirts of the lush marshlands of Rwanda, a young boy named Olivier is also scanning the land before him for movement. Crouching on the ground with his friends, he peers through tall grasses as the orange sunset lights up the horizon. They spot a set of majestic grey-crowned cranes engaging in an elaborate mating dance. Olivier ignores his mother’s calls to come home for supper. Taken in by the birds’ bluster and methodical bobbing, the boy can’t pull himself away. 

Decades later, the children have grown—and emerged as leading conservationists dedicated to saving threatened species in their home countries. Krithi Karanth is the executive director and chief conservation scientist of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, based in Bangalore. As the daughter of the renowned Indian wildlife conservationist K. Ullas Karanth, she spent 16 years accompanying her father on his field expeditions; the experiences—coupled with years of professional training at leading universities in the United States—laid the foundation for a career safeguarding animals. Olivier Nsengimana, meanwhile, is a veterinarian and founder of the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA). After graduating top of his class at the Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Nsengimana worked as a field veterinarian with Gorilla Doctors before deciding in 2014 to focus on saving the cranes that fascinated him as a child.

Their work is united by a commitment to finding solutions to a particularly knotty problem: the conflicts that arise when human societies and the natural world converge. Humans leave a consequential footprint, says ecologist and environmental filmmaker Charles Post. “The key threats facing wildlife around the world are the collective impact of society, which is coming to life through climate change, and habitat loss and fragmentation,” he noted. “As human settlements and industry reach further into wild landscapes, ecosystems are severely impacted.”

Karanth and Nsengimana are on the frontlines of the effort to reshape this relationship. Honored as Laureates of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise program—part of the organization’s broader mission to make the planet perpetual—the duo has instituted innovative projects in their home countries to ensure wildlife and humans can better coexist.

Portraits of Environmental Pioneers

Meet two conservationists that are helping animals and humans better coexist.

Krithi Karanth

Krithi Karanth

Olivier Nsengimana

Olivier Nsengimana

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When humans and wildlife meet

As a child, Karanth would travel to remote forests to catch a glimpse of tigers and other wild creatures. Yet for some Indians, she notes, these sights occur just outside their homes. Because of the proximity between villages and wilderness, rural communities are frequently in contact—and often conflict—with animals. Wildlife may threaten farm animals and destroy property. In theory, the government is meant to pay compensation to victims, but sometimes people will simply seek revenge. 

“India is a high conflict, high wildlife country,” said Karanth. “We have between 80,000 and 100,000 incidents that are reported to the government for which compensation is paid annually. But the real number of incidents in India is probably closer to anywhere between 200,000 and half a million.”

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The Collective's Charles Post outlines how human activity affects ecosystems.
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How much land
around the world is
actually protected?

Wildlife can be put at risk when their natural habitats intersect with human settlements. Recognizing this reality, some countries, such as Greenland and Bhutan, have been ambitious about establishing conservation areas. Others—including Canada, believe it or not—have lagged behind. Toggle below to see how different nations compare when it comes to protecting land.

Tap to compare:

% of total land area

0%
9%