Much ado about a logo

How a logo on a T-shirt in an old photograph of a former employee has put WCS-India into a nervous flutter. 

Published : Mar 12, 2024 19:25 IST - 3 MINS READ

K Ullas Karanth, conservation Zoologist and a leading tiger expert, in Bengaluru on July 11, 2017.

K Ullas Karanth, conservation Zoologist and a leading tiger expert, in Bengaluru on July 11, 2017. | Photo Credit: MURALI KUMAR K

In an interview published in Frontline magazine (issue dated March 22, 2024) and on the Frontline website (March 7), leading tiger conservation expert K. Ullas Karanth shared his forthright views on the issue of man-tiger conflicts in Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks. The interview accompanied an article written by this correspondent on the same theme, as eight persons were mauled to death by tigers in these two reserves in 2023.

Towards the end of his interview, Karanth made the following statement: “Independent wildlife scientists are not allowed any more to explore and research charismatic species or serious conservation problems. This is because of a fundamental conflict of interest. Wildlife officials are avoiding independent ecological monitoring and audits of their practices by conveniently employing underqualified or unqualified “scientists” who are under their control. This whole situation is sustained by locking away and hiding all raw data collected, spending cores of taxpayer money over the past two decades. It is certainly not amrit kaal for wildlife science in India.”

In a bizarre vindication of this assertion, WCS-India (Wildlife Conservation Society–India, a non-profit organisation) put out a statement on social media platform X, disassociating itself from the interview.

Why did WCS-India feel the need to disown Karanth? Because Karanth, who was employed at WCS-India till 2018, was wearing a T-shirt with the organisation’s logo in the photograph accompanying the interview. Thus, as WCS-India tediously explained, “Since the image accompanying the article shows Dr. Karanth wearing a T-shirt featuring the WCS name and logo, this could potentially lead to a misunderstanding regarding the endorsement of his views as ours. To prevent any confusion, we find it necessary to issue this disclaimer.”

It is common practice for media houses to use photographs from their archives with a story. This is frequently done with portrait shots of individuals well known in the public sphere. K. Murali Kumar, Senior Special News Photographer of The Hindu in Bengaluru, who took this specific photograph, said, “This photograph was taken on July 11, 2017, when I had gone to Karanth’s office in central Bengaluru.” That was when Karanth was still employed with WCS-India.

When told about the post on X, Karanth told Frontline, “I worked with WCS Global for 30 years until 2018 and there may be hundreds of photos of me wearing a WCS logo in the public domain, including in the Bronx Zoo. The photo that led to the anguished tweet was taken by your staff photographer many years ago. I have neither the time nor the inclination to dig out my old T-shirts to represent the WCS programme in India!”

A conservationist, requesting anonymity, said, “The tweet highlights the big discord between organisations within the wildlife community. Dr Karanth was the Director of WCS-India Program for a long time and the current Director was his protégé and Ph. D student. It is unfortunate to see animosity between a teacher and his student and between Karanth and his former employers.”

Another expert, who works in a prominent wildlife organisation, said, “The tweet reflects the “politics of conservation”. No organisation wants to alienate the powerful Forest Departments [in this case, the Karnataka Forest Department] who control research permits, or the Central government, by being perceived as even slightly critical of government policy.”

A final word to set the record straight: Karanth was not wearing a T-Shirt with the WCS logo when his interview was conducted by Frontline on January 22 this year!

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