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Butterflies face a curfew-like plight in India

Known reasons why Butterfly’s conservation is ignored and grievously side tracked By Harsh Vardhan 

“Indian butterfly and moth collections contain less than 50% of the estimated 11,300 species found in India. This deficiency has negatively impacted research as well as  popularization and conservation efforts for this group of insects. The validity of  governmental initiatives in this field be examined.”

The statement, bold as it is, comes from Peter Smetacek, Founder of the Butterfly Research Center at Bhimtal (  

Peter is probably the sole authority in the country who is considered as the last referee to scrutinize any butterfly species to be named as new to this subcontinent. He is a freelance expert,  showcasing his exploits at a museum he has set up at Bhimtal in Nainital’s lower hills towards Kathgodam road. 

Four important collections of Lepidoptera in India

At present, there are four important collections of Lepidoptera in India.

These are the National Collection at the Zoological  Survey of India; the National Forest Insect Collection at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun; the National Agricultural Insect Collection at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi; and the collection at the Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai.

Britishers maintained records of birds and butterflies

This writer visited the Rothchild Museum of Natural History at Tring in Britain to understand how the one time rulers of India maintained records of birds and butterflies.  

Peter informs: “Over the past 25 years, I have sought out and examined Lepidoptera collections throughout India. Reference collections should contain about eight pairs of each taxon so that the range of variation can be adequately covered. The rules are skewed whether for scientific use or other purposes. Prior to 1986, there was no bar on collecting insects. In that year, many butterflies and beetles were  inexplicably included in the schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972. No studies, surveys or other forms of information gathering appear to have been carried out prior to this exercise.”

Damage to habitats encouraged… know how

“Must the rule makers realise that butterflies live for a fortnight. Most of their lives remain in the egg, larval and pupal stages. While collectors are viewed with suspicion, damage to habitats is being encouraged by various governmental departments. With the inclusion of many butterflies and some beetles in the schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and by  imposing curbs on collections under the Biodiversity Act, the real issues of insect conservation have been ignored and, in fact,  grievously side tracked.  

No one to brief on Butterflies

What next? No book to include all butterflies of India. Setting up butterfly parks is also at mercy of Central Zoo Authority of India, an outfit of Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change. The Ministry has no one to brief any one on butterflies. At State level forest departments, no one ever discusses the role played by these insects. The species are left to passionate persons who  carry out own studies and try to maintain personal collections, stealthily. What ‘development’ is hailed by nation’s leaders? I need to seek replies.  

PS: The photo (as above) is of a Common Butterfly on a Tridax flower, taken by Mukesh Panwar in Sagwara, Rajasthan.

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