As a new school year begins in India, the National Geographic Society is proud to support the expansion of Wild Shaale, a unique conservation education program created by National Geographic Explorer and conservation biologist Dr. Krithi Karanth in collaboration with the Centre for Wildlife Studies and fellow Explorer and educator Dr. Gabby Salazar. With the Society’s support, Karanth and her team hope to bring Wild Shaale to more than 15,000 students in 300 schools this year.
The Wild Shaale program (“shaale” translates to “school” in Kannada) is designed to engage children living near wildlife and teach them about, nurture their interest in, and inspire empathy toward wildlife and the environment. It uses a mixture of art, visual media, and games to build students’ knowledge of and sense of connection to their local wildlife, and promotes self-efficacy by giving them practical actions they can take to share space with wildlife and support local conservation efforts.
“Everyone is fundamentally born with a connection to nature, and our experiences either break down or strengthen that connection over time,” Karanth said. “Our goal is for Wild Shaale to foster a lasting connection between these children and wildlife. Thanks to the National Geographic Society, we will be able to reach hundreds of thousands of children in India and, hopefully, grow globally.”
As the daughter of a renowned tiger biologist, Karanth has always felt a deep connection to wildlife and wild places. She became a conservation scientist, and in 2011, she received her first grant from the Society –– the 10,000th awarded by the nonprofit –– to support her research on the risks and circumstances of human-wildlife conflict in India. Her research and experiences gave her the idea for a conservation education program designed specifically for children who live near and come into frequent contact with wildlife.
She connected with Salazar at the 2017 National Geographic Explorers Festival and the pair worked together to create a research-based curriculum to measure and cultivate children’s empathy toward wildlife. With a grant from the Society, they piloted Wild Shaale at 38 schools in India in the 2018-19 academic year. Since then, they have worked with the Centre for Wildlife Studies to bring Wild Shaale to more than 700 schools and reached 30,000 children in five states around the Western Ghats in India –– a biodiversity hotspot home to 50 million people who face challenges to their livelihoods because they frequently share space and resources with wildlife like tigers, elephants, leopards, and wild pigs.
“The National Geographic Society has proudly supported Krithi and Gabby as Explorers for more than a decade each, and we are especially proud to support their collaboration,” said Dr. Deborah Grayson, the Society’s Chief Education Officer. “Wild Shaale is a thoughtful and creative solution to support human-wildlife coexistence that exemplifies the way education can create lasting change and truly protect the wonder of our world.”
The Wild Shaale curriculum is currently available in seven languages, and has been expanded to cover global human-wildlife coexistence strategies in the context of a changing environment to empower students to identify ways to take personal responsibility and action to protect wildlife and wild places. Karanth’s team also provides local educators with additional training and curricular resources to continue exploring conservation with their students. Eventually, Karanth and her team aspire to grow Wild Shaale globally, inspiring empathy and supporting human-wildlife coexistence in all places where people regularly come into contact with wildlife.