Case Studies

Wildlife Conservation Society

The India Tiger Program’s goal is to enable tigers and people to live harmoniously in India. Using innovative, science-based methods for monitoring and protecting tigers, and employing thoughtful, effective models for relocating humans from the big cats’ habitat, the organization has helped to bring the species back from near-extinction while connecting people with greater economic opportunity elsewhere in the country.


The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Dr. Ullas Karanth, lead tiger researcher, must contend with three serious threats to tigers’ existence: 1) the hunting of their prey by local people, 2) poaching for their skin and bones, and 3) habitat degra- dation. Meanwhile, the tigers themselves pose a threat to farmers and herders living in their midst: the cats frequently hunt livestock and sometimes kill people, which breeds animosity among locals that sometimes brings them to retaliate against the tigers.

Dr. Karanth aims to solve these problems simultaneously. His multipronged approach includes researching exactly how much space a tiger needs by counting the cats and their prey (using a photo-capture method he developed), assisting law enforcement to crack down on poachers, educating the public, advocating for the creation of protected areas for tigers, and facilitating the relocation of people living in those reserves. WCS works with local government and nongovernmental organizations to offer financial compensation to families who agree to move out of the protected areas, which are cut off from amenities, and into more populated, developed locales.

The relocation component is crucial, Dr. Karanth says, as it enables both tigers and people to thrive. “People want to benefit from the economic development in India,” he said. “They want electricity, decent housing, water, education for their children, and a better livelihood.” Relocation can help achieve that, he said.


Thanks in part to WCS’s efforts, the tiger population in India has soared, particularly in reserves such as the Malenad land- scape, where the population jumped from fewer than 100 cats in

the early 1970s to about 400 today. Countrywide, there are now about 2,500 tigers, up from 1,800 cats 40 years ago. Locals are also experiencing the benefits: WCS has assisted with the resettlement of more than 1,600 families from six reserves. And the Indian government has adopted Dr. Karanth’s method of counting tigers, paving the way for protecting other threatened species.

How The Satter Foundation Has Helped

Conservation projects typically take many years to show results. By providing consistent, patient support over the long term, the Satter Foundation has made it possible for Dr. Karanth and his team to develop innovative programs, implement them thoughtfully, and maintain them over many years.

What's Next

Dr. Karanth is training the next generation of conservationists and researchers to carry on his work and replicate it in other areas of India—and for other species, such as elephants. Researchers will also replicate it in other countries where people compete with wildlife, such as China and Thailand. “As development increases around the world, the chal- lenge will be how to save these big, charismatic creatures, these watersheds, and these biodiversities,” he says. “We need to solve these problems, and nothing works better than working models. This method will have many applications.”

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