Sikkim, growing hub of illegal wildlife trade

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Gangtok, Feb 28 (UNI) The World Wildlife Fund today warned that Sikkim might become the next hub of international illegal wildlife through Nathu La border trade.

Nathu La trade route is the shortest route to Tibet region of China, which has wooed the wildlife traders, WWF programme officer Dwaipayan Banerjee said highlighting on measures to check such trade through Indo-Nepal and Indo-China border.

''If we don't act soon, Sikkim may be listed as the next hotspot of trans-border trade after Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal,'' Mr Banerjee said while adressing a gathering of forest officials, tour operators, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and eco-tourism societies here.

''We need to realize that wildlife crime is slowly creeping in and take immediate steps to curb it,'' state forest department Chief Wildlife Warden N T Bhutia said, adding that there was a need to tighten security near Nathu La border.

Sikkim with a geographical area of only 0.2 per cent has 27 per cent of the nation's biodiversity and is listed in the ten most critical centres for bio-diversity and endemism as it shares border with Nepal, Bhutan and Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China.

Nathu La border, where trade between Sikkim and TAR had started since 2006, is only 64 km away from here. Dongqingang, the nearest mart in TAR was mere half-an-hour distance from the international border.

Conservator of Forests C Lanchungpa informed that medicinal plants of the state were being smuggled across the border in small volumes.

''A big consignment of red sandalwood, meant for TAR, had been seized by Sikkim police on November 30 last year,'' he said, adding that the state possesses almost 50 per cent of the butterfly species of the whole subcontinent with some being rare and endangered.

He further said three French students were caught red-handed on July last year by state wildlife officers while they were catching butterflies and moths from a reserve forest in West Sikkim.

''Various enforcement agencies and tour operators along with the locals need to come together to check the menace,'' he added.

UNI BG PP SHB KN1640

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