With reference to the report “Volunteers come across bizarre ‘sightings' during tiger census” (The Hindu, May 18), the Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Rajiv K. Sivastava, says no major irregularities had been brought to the department's attention during the 2011 census. Strict discipline was maintained and rules and regulations were followed. Seven wildlife experts from WWF, Wildlife Institute of India and the department were involved in the process, and rangefinders used for the first time. All volunteers were full of praise for the arrangements made for the census. To state that an unsustainable number of volunteers were engaged in the exercise was not correct. One volunteer from Bangalore who was found smoking inside the reserve was penalised and sent back. Extra volunteers were sent in to the Buffer Zone (Nilgiri North Division)/vulnerable area keeping in mind the elephant movement and dung count.

The honorary secretary of the Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association (NWEA), S. Jayachandran, said in a statement that the report was hopelessly one-sided and based on the accounts of a very few. VIP treatment was not given to anyone and due care was taken in the selection of volunteers. The census was monitored by field biologists and the Forest Veterinary Officer. The anti-poaching watchers and guards who accompanied the volunteers were trained to prepare for the exercise, as the onus to produce a scientific animal count could not be on the volunteers alone. As to the claim that volunteers used mobile phones during the survey, the blame rested only on them for not heeding instructions.

Divya Gandhi writes:I have reported that the Chief Conservator of Forests had not received any complaints during the survey, and that he thought the briefing to volunteers was adequate. His comment that the only irregularity noticed was that of a volunteer smoking in the national park, for which he paid a fine of Rs. 2,000 and gave a written apology, was also reported. At no point was the Chief Conservator misquoted. On the NWEA's refutation of VIP treatment, it must be pointed out that the volunteers' claims were reported as “alleged” events. The denial of the allegations by the secretary, S. Jayachandran, was published. The reference to the use of mobile phones by volunteers was to illustrate the claim of inadequate briefing — which NWEA and the Forest Department were responsible for. On the use of rangefinders, if the lack of training in the use of the equipment and other tools was a conscious decision, as opposed to an omission on the part of NWEA, it was, perhaps, not communicated to the volunteers who believed the latter to be the case.

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