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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Trio held in India 'insect theft'
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Sikkim country side
Sikkim is renowned for its natural beauty
Three French nationals have been detained in India after they were allegedly caught collecting butterflies, moths and beetles.

Forestry officials in the northern state of Sikkim detained the trio on Friday in a Himalayan forest.

They were allegedly in possession of 41 insects, contravening the Wildlife Act.

The two men and a woman deny theft. They have not been arrested but have been asked to stay in west Sikkim until investigations are over, officials say.

Ecology students

The three, who are all thought to be in their early 20s, were detained in Budang reserve forest near Soreng.

They say they were collecting the insects only for research purposes and were not involved in wholesale theft.

The state is a haven for flora and insects

The additional principal chief conservator of forests of Sikkim, ST Lachungpa, said that the three had violated wildlife rules, because they did not have the necessary permission from the state forest, wildlife and environment department.

Equipment, including nets and gadgets to attract butterflies, were also seized from them, Mr Lachungpa said.

The three accused say that they are students of ecology and were collecting the samples for study.

Forestry officials say that have now forwarded the case to the chief wildlife warden at the forest secretariat in Sikkim's capital, Gangtok, for further investigation.

Seven years ago two Russians were arrested under similar charges, and subsequent investigations found that they had been collecting rare species of butterflies.

They served a short prison sentence.

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