Conservation Issues

Despite the fact that around 83% of Sikkim is under forest cover and the human population is relatively low, the State suffers from some conservation issues such as need for fuelwood and fodder, increase in human-wildlife conflicts, increasing populations of stray and feral dogs as well as feral cats in urban areas. Hunting is not a major issue in any IBA but sustainability of increasing tourism in forests and wildlife protected areas needs to be addresses.

In the tropical Ecoregion at lower elevations, Lantana camara and Mikania micrantha are major weeds. Forest fires are generally reported from this zone and there is an occasional problem of illegal removal of Sal and Teak trees. New hydroelectric projects have also been taken up in this zone. This ecoregion is not well represented in the protected area network, with only 6 sq km of Kitam Reserve Forest declared as Kitam Bird Sanctuary, in and around which the Common Peafowl has become a crop predator much like the barking deer, porcupine Assamese macaques and the invasive Giant African Snail Lissachatina fulica.

In the Sub-Tropical Ecoregion Eupatorium adenophorum, Chromolaena odorata. and Mikania micrantha are major weeds competing with Artemesia vulgaris and other secondary growth. Large Cardamom Ammomum subulatum under-planted in forest patches and a tea garden at Temi are dominant features of the landscape, as much as naturalized exotic Cryptomeria japonica patches.

The Temperate and Alpine and Trans-Himalayan ecoregions are home to about 90% of the Yak population of Sikkim. These ecoregions are also rich in medicinal plants. Trans-Himalayan Sikkim supports the only true alpine grasslands in the State. Closure of the International Border to trans-humance over the last three decades has led to intense grazing pressure by both domestic and wild herbivores on the land. Issues in the area include presence of landmines, existence of stray and feral dogs around defence settlements and increasing volume of tourism with attendant need for solid waste management which is being attempted by NGOs like World Wide Fund for Nature – India.

The Trans-Himalayan ecoregion with its lakes and glaciers urgently needs to be represented in the protected area network of the State. At present the area has a host of biotic pressures, which need urgent mitigation. There is a lack of awareness, as is the undecided status and future of the last 23 families of nomadic shepherds or ‘Dokpas’, increase in numbers of feral dogs, and various defence priorities including migrant labour camps in charge of road construction and maintenance. It is also the only area, which cannot be patrolled regularly without proper transport and communication facilities due to its extremely high altitude (over 5,000 m), inhospitable weather and inaccessibility. Interference in this fragile ecosystem would damage the area irretrievably.

Sikkim has innumerable number of rivers and streams flowing down the glaciers, which provide abundant potential of hydroelectric power projects. It is estimated that Sikkim has potential to generate 8,000 MW seasonally and about 3,000 MW power during winter months (Rajvanshi et al. 2000). The river Tista has potential to generate huge hydroelectric power, as it descends from an elevation of about 5,000 m to about 300 m, within a distance of 175 km. Great care needs to be exercised at every step of the way to avoid threats to many IBAs especially the Khangchendzonga National Park and Biosphere Reserve, a proposed World Heritage Site.

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