Thursday, October 22, 2009

Winged beauties aflutter

A novel project mooted by the forest department in the nineties to set up a butterfly park at Bhironda in Valpoi and another one in South Goa may not have seen the light of day, but lovers of these multi-hued insects continue to be dazzled by these vibrant creatures and a group of them strongly advocate a better conservation effort to save them.

Recently a group of 33 professionals and members of "Butterfly India" traipsed around the wilds of Goa chasing and documenting butterflies for five days as part of their annual meeting. The group included nature photographers, zoologists, an entomologist, wildlife enthusiasts and butterfly lovers, who trekked areas of Bondla, Bhagwan Mahavir National Park, Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary and Neturlim Wildlife Sanctuary and returned impressed by the rich biodiversity.

Says entomologist Amol Patwardhan of Thane, "Goa is an ideal place for butterfly conservation and the hinterland has a pretty good green cover." Patwardhan also backed the forest department's plan to set up a butterfly park, stating it would add to Goa's tourism profile. "Being a tourist destination, it can be an additional attraction and even a money spinner, as climatic and other conditions are suitable for this type of conservation effort," he said.

Agrees Parag Rangnekar, who has published a book on butterflies, "It can add to the state's tourism attractions because very few states have promoted butterflies. Actually any place is okay, but it should be an undisturbed area with space to plant the right kind of host and food plants."

Patwardhan whose job includes classifying insects also advised caution about the location and methodology to be adopted in pursuing the proposal. "Care should be taken to avoid ecological problems and the site should be away from mining areas. Also, conservation has to be scientific. There should be plants suitable for caterpillars to feed on and others of the flowering variety (nectar-bearing) for adult butterflies," said Patwardhan. Butterflies have their own choice of host plants. Agreed Rangnekar, "Butterflies have to be cared for like babies," he said.

However, deputy conservator of forest (wildlife and eco tourism) Debendra Dalai said that he was not aware of any proposal for setting up a butterfly park. "A suggestion for setting up a butterfly park at Bondla was made during discussions recently on a master plan for Bondla zoo. It has already been finalized and cannot be modified now," he said. "However, it cannot be thought of as a separate project. It doesn't require huge infrastructure, but mainly the specific requirement of host plants for butterflies and there are hardly any hassles in implementing it."

Concurring with Patwardhan about the need for a conservation programme for butterflies, Rangnekar said NGOs should also extend their support, as the main danger lies in the possible destruction of habitats. Habitat-specific species of butterflies face the worst peril. "Take the case of the Malabar Tree Nymph. It can be found only in certain areas of Goa's western ghats. If the area in which they can be found is destroyed or their habitat is in danger, they may be wiped off," says Rangnekar.

Several species of butterflies may not be endemic, but there are a few habitat-specific species. "The danger is that people may not realize that if their habitat is destroyed, butterflies may be affected, but climatic conditions and host plants are interconnected requirements for their subsistence," Ragnekar explained.

As far as the location is concerned, the state is strategically poised in one of the global biodiversity hotspots of the western ghats. "Goa is at the confluence of northern and southern part of the western ghats' range which spans from Tamil Nadu to Gujarat. Some species of butterflies found here are also reported in southern states, but not in Maharashtra, and hence conservation to preserve these is important." says Rangnekar. For instance, the Malabar Tree Nymph can be found aplenty in the Brahma Karmali area of Satari. "If the area is destroyed, then nature and butterflies will lose out," he added.

A Ponda-based NGO has set up a small butterfly conservatory at Pisgal. "This is an appreciable initiative, but with better support, both technical and financial, a larger facility with an interpretation centre could be set up," Ragnekar added. According to Omkar Dharwadkar, studies on Goa's fauna may be few, but butterflies are "fairly well documented". The Zoological Survey of India, western regional station, Pune in its fauna series has listed 251 species, while scientist Harish Gaonkar's compilation on the entire western ghats has a few more. Manoj Borkar and Neelam Komarpant have documented 90-odd species at Bondla, while Rangnekar has photo-documented around 140 species in the entire state.

The latest exercise in chasing butterflies yielded more success as three more species not earlier reported were found. "We found the Black-vein sergeant (Athyma ranga moore), White-banded awl (Hasora taminatus Hübner) and Coon (Psolos fuligo Mabille)," says Rangnekar. Thus, the total number of species reported in Goa has gone up to 258.

Nature lovers feel that more species can be identified and documented, but it needs a little extra effort. "By merely photographing them, one cannot identify them. They have to be collected and put under the microscope for scientific purposes and determining their seasonality and flight pattern. It is the need of the hour," says Rangnekar.

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