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Underground lizard trade worth million dollars flourishing in Indo-Bhutan foothills
Debasis Sarkar, ET Bureau, January 29, 2014
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SILIGURI: A multi-million dollar underground trade is flourishing fast along bio-diversity rich Indo-Bhutan border region with the locality as source of the traded item. And the item is living Tokay Gecko, a specific variety of Lizard, available at the region in good number that carries a million dollar level price tag in underground world.

As the indicator of this translucent trade, Bhutan foresters apprehended about 20 people for trying to trade the lizards in the last one year. Almost all of these animals were known to have been captured from south Bhutan foothills region. Recently two Indians were also apprehended by Bhutan authority from south Bhutan on same charge.

" Takshak, a kind of Geko, is available in good numbers in Bhutan adjoining Indian areas too. Our department also come across illegal trading cases of it, though infrequently," said MN Biswas, Conservator of forest, West Bengal, India.

Gecko is a lizard of about 11-20 inches length weighting 150-400 grams. Distinctive in appearance, with a bluish or grayish body, and known more for its loud mating call, this animal's natural distribution is almost entire south Asia.

As a major crisis, the animal had no proper legal protection in India. But, "Now it is included in Schedule III of Indian Wildlife Protection Act as highly endangered animal," said WBFS officer K Sarkar. But it is not yet listed in International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, 2000, which is a major threat- informed wildlife activists.

According to security agency intelligence, a piece of this lizard, weighing around 300g, could fetch a price ranging from USD 2M to even 20 Million. "Many times, low weight Geckos, caught to be smuggled, are injected with mercury to increase weight though that eventually kills the animal after some days," said foresters. But they could not clarify any confirm usage. "Though not clear, but there has to be an end market that keeps the trade running," they said.

It is largely believed that dried tongue or stomach of the animal is used in China as anti asthma or anti cancer drug. Its body part powder is also used there as aphrodisiacs. But interestingly, "I have never learnt of smuggling of any dead Gecko or its body parts in dried or preserved condition. In all cases, it is found to be smuggled alive, means, with non dried and undisturbed tissue," said a senior forester.

The animal is now under watch of another sector. Research is going on to artificially replicate adhesion property of Gekco's feet to develop a perfect reusable tape to use as non invasive injury healing material replacing conventional stitching or stapling items used in deep cut wounds. If can be perfected, this tape can have a billion dollar market in whole world- informed science educators.

This article first appeared here


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