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Butterfly Conservation

Roles Of Butterfly Farms And Breeding For Conservation Of Lepidoptera



Butterfly conservation is dedicated to the saving of wild butterflies and their habitat. In order to contribute in this area, firstly we need to identify the current threats. Then, a case study of The Penang Butterfly Farm (PBF) will be used to exemplify the role it plays as a Live Butterfly Exhibitor and its Breeding Program in butterfly conservation. Butterfly related industry is relatively a very young industry compared to other very established ones such as zoos, aquaria and bird aviaries. The first live butterfly exhibit was set up in 1976 by Mr. David Lowe at Guernsey, Channel Islands, and presumably the 1st butterfly house in the Tropical Region, PBF, was opened to the public in 1986. Since Asian countries are still very new to this industry, thus looking to the west would be a good short-cut to facilitate the positive development for the good of education, promotion of nature awareness and environmental sustainability and hopefully in the long run, will help in the conservation of butterflies in our region.


Before I go into the subject proper of this paper, I would like to touch on the recent history of Butterfly Houses in order to provide some background for the better understanding of this subject.

Live butterfly exhibition is relatively a very young industry compared to other very established ones such as zoos and bird aviaries. Though the first heated glass-house of live butterfly exhibit was set up in 1976 by Mr. David Lowe at Guernsey, Channel Island, it was not popularized until another tropical glass house of live butterfly called The London Butterfly House was opened for public in early 1980 by Mr. Clive Farrell who subsequently has set up a few other houses and also has extended his influence on several people, including me. In 1986 March, The Penang Butterfly Farm, presumably the 1st butterfly house in the Tropical Region, was opened to the public. At one time around late 1980's, there were more than 50 butterfly houses in the U.K. and many others in Continental Europe. In 1988, The Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida was opened, followed by Day Butterfly Centre at Callaway Gardens in Georgia, the same year. Since then, the industry bloomed and many big and moderate butterfly houses sprang up allover U.S.A. as well as in Canada.

Behind this boom lies a very strong phenomenon. That is a new-found tool for nature education, which effectively leads to motivation of awareness of particularly the very fragile aspect of nature. Suddenly the general public, both the old and the young, have realized the complexity and the mystery of our great Mother Nature through the magical metamorphosis and the life history of butterflies.


Threats to Butterflies in the Wild

Butterfly conservation is dedicated to the saving of wild butterflies and their habitats. In order to contribute in this area, firstly we need to identify the current threats.
1) Habitat Destruction - This is the most serious threat. But it is a highly controversial subject in the broad sense and I don't intend to go into details of it and neither can the world community do a lot to help except perhaps
a) To help to slow down the process of destruction.
b) To help and influence the individual governments to create more forest reserves and national parks.
2) General lack of awareness and love for nature - particularly the appreciation of resources that nature embraces and this leads to the misuse of chemicals, degradation of environments and non¬coexistence with nature.
The spread of invasive plants, pests, predators and diseases brought about by disturbed ecological balance.
Not enough serious recovery plans by individual governments to save-guard the disappearance of butterflies in the wild.
Therefore, how do butterfly farms help to save these lovely, brilliant creatures? Before we go into this, let us first understand the 3 different categories of butterfly farms or butterfly houses.
1) Butterfly Glass-Houses (in Temperate Region) - Public display of live butterflies with very little or no breeding facilities.
2) Tropical and Sub-Tropical Butterfly Houses - Public display of live butterflies with elaborate breeding facilities for both self-need and outside market demand.
3) Butterfly Breeding Farms and Ranching - Facilities that focus mainly on the supply of pupae for butterfly houses and other market needs and do not have public exhibition. In the case of Butterfly Ranching, it usually occurs in villages near the forests such as in Papua New Guinea where natives grow butterfly host plants in the open to attract wild butterflies to come and lay eggs. Income derived from selling these pupae or adult.
Roles of butterfly farms and breeding for conservation of Lepidoptera 45 roceedings of the First South East Asian Lepidoptera Conservation Symposium specimens will eventually stop the natives from cutting down trees or clearing forest to earn their living.
All these 3 categories of facilities have in their own ways opened up to the world of wonder and mystery of butterflies. The popularity of these public facilities has led to a new horizon of fundamental research of butterfly life history which in the past was not widely carried out by Lepidopterists except collecting and identifying them for taxonomic work and mapping their distribution worldwide as evidenced in many published literature during the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Roles of Butterfly Houses

This life-history research has apparently lifted the century-old hobby to another level and it has also attracted a new breed of hobbyists and enthusiasts. Because of the great demand for pupae generated by the recent mushrooming of publiC butterfly houses during the last 2 decades, butterfly breeding has become widespread and it can be witnessed that a series of new phenomena has emerged in this young industry.
1) Economic viability - public live exhibits have been set up by institutions, non-profit organizations as well as private sectors, creating a chain-reaction of economic activities that provide new income for different level of people involved in this new industry. And this is the most vital role that triggers the various effects that help to save butterflies.
2) Education - This is the major concern and also the direction of most investors in this industry as well as those who care about nature in general and butterflies in particular. Perhaps it is easier if I pick one example of a butterfly house and elaborate on the role it plays directly and indirectly in butterfly conservation.

Penang Butterfly Farm

Penang Butterfly Farm (PBF) was established in 1986 in Penang, Malaysia with 2 main objectives:
1) to function as a tourist destination to build up its financial base.
2) to serve as a centre for education, recreation and scientific research.

Initially PBF operated as a tourist attraction, supported by its increasingly elaborate breeding facilities, which have six breeding stations that spread out on a total land size of more than 10 acres, between one to more than 100 km apart. Its well-landscaped public enclosure is filled with 3,000 to 4,000 live butterflies representing some 100 native species as well as some 300 varieties of tropical plants.

In order to make PBF very attractive to get wider patronage, many side-attractions have been created. These include: a big fish pond (about 1/3 of the flight area) with 70 over very big fresh water fishes made up of more than 20 species; other individual displays of invertebrates, reptiles, snakes, ducks, turtles and tortoises, free-flying seed-feeding birds inside the main flight area; adjacent to the flight area are a Hide and Seek garden with camouflaged insects, a little zoo of many more big live invertebrates housed in individual cases; an Insect Museum and a Gift-shop. More recently, PBF has expanded its operation to encompass an Education and Resource centre. Several key components have made this aspect of PBF's work a success:

a) Comprehensive signage placing messages and information throughout the public facility to educate both the adults and the young visitors.
b) Science Projects such as "Be a Butterfly Breeder" and other outdoor educational programmes for children, taking full advantage of PBF's location next to the Forest Reserve.
c) Adult Programmes - familia rise grown-ups with insects and dispel their misconceptions and fears in order to help to widen the scope of nature education. PBF has also provided training for 300 teachers in 3 different sessions.
d) Insect Museum with relevant content of high educational value rather than just being academic or scientific as well as the vial¬collection in alcohol of all the different early stages of the butterfly species that we breed.
e) New Audio Visual Theme Room with high resolution big screen video shows.
f) New Auditorium and Education Project Rooms for organised school groups with specific programmes according to different age-groups and school curriculum.
In order to facilitate the educational and commercial aspects of PBF, much research has been carried out. This work has the following key elements that underpin all the other work undertaken:
a) Several years prior to the opening of the Farm to the public, a lot of field work had been done to research into the host plants of species that had no record or had never been bred before. At the same time habitat study was also carried out to understand the macro-climatic conditions required for both the butterflies and their host plants.
b) Being ideally located next to the Forest Reserve, P.B.F. has been able to take advantage of the nearby natural habitat and frequently release back a significant percentage of the captive¬bred stock to the wild for several reasons.
i) To continuously sustain or increase the wild population which will back up the genetic problem that sometimes sets in in captive breeding.
ii) Some species do not mate in captive environment after having emerged from pupae for reasons that are still unknown. The only way is to release them back to the wild and recapture some of them for egg-laying purposes.
c) Restoration of butterfly habitats - Viable but disturbed habitats are repeatedly restored by planting or introducing more host plants to increase the wild population of butterflies. This is good for the breeders as they need occasional replenishment from the wild population to overcome:
i) Genetic problems
ii) Seasonal changes of species
d) As a centre for documentary work carried out by many T.V. stations and film-makers from all round the world. In the past, P.B.F. has received countless projects of such nature and this has helped to contribute towards its research fund.
e) A centre for academic and post-graduate work used by local and foreign universities for their post-graduate students in the past, such as Dr. Jason Weintraub from Cornell University who spent more than a year at PBF.
f) Hosting of butterfly conferences and giving talks to schools and other institutions have been past contributions of P.B.F.
g) The last major component of PBF is professional consultancy - PBF has, for example, acted as a consultancy firm for a Malaysian public listed housing development company (SP Setia) to enhance their housing project with a recreated butterfly habitat. Learn more about our Butterfly Garden Consultancy Services.

International Association of Butterfly Exhibitors (IABE)

When live butterfly exhibition has become a widespread and popular activity in the west, their governments begin to set up new rules to regulate such activity. But people involved in the industry begin to feel that their activity is being gradually over-regulated and in 2002 they officially formed an international body to unite all the people involved into one voice and use this to represent the industry to have dialogue with governments. This association has members from U.S.A., Canada Central and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. They initiate conferences such as ICBES (International Conference of Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers) and ECBES (European Conference of Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers). This kind of conference has been in existence since 1997 when the 1st conference was hosted in Costa Rica.

This industry is now so well regulated especially in U.S.A. that it enjoys very smooth procedure in the regular import of live invertebrates and butterfly pupae into U.S.A. and Canada whereby import permits are issued to those qualified individual establishments on a yearly or 3 yearly basis.


Influence on Local Communities

Through the joint effort of local councils, private sectors and butterfly house operators, many communal activities can be created. For an example the exterior walls of many local residents' homes in Bordano, a small town in North Italy near Venice have been colourfully painted with beautiful art work of butterfly murals. Such trend has now spread to Sayn, a small town near Koblenz in Germany. Other than beautifying the towns, the trend also helps to spread the message of love for butterflies.

In the East, like Malaysia, as mentioned earlier, a leading private housing development company has pioneered in a new concept by incorporating a recreated butterfly habitat into their new residential housing project known as Setia Eco Park and invested also in a butterfly conservatory to enhance the educational value for the residents' young generation.

Figure 12.1.
Butterfly wall mural in Sayn.
Koblenz, Germany.

Penang Butterfly Farm, as their consultant, has followed their development progress since 2004 and has apparently succeeded up to this stage whereby the host plants for more than 20 selected species of local butterflies identified at the nearby Forest Reserve have thrived very well and the on going propagation work has been on schedule. Butterflies have started to appear and we are hopeful that we will achieve our objective of a sustainable environment with significant colonies of butterflies flying around this Eco Park in foreseeable future. But eventually the maturing process of the ecological balance will determine the end result, particularly in relation to predation and diseases of these re-introduced butterflies.


Since education in Nature Conservation through "Butterflies" has been widely promoted in the west and so far not much has been publicized in the Asian Region, the same should be given some importance especially when the economic and industrial development is currently the hottest in the world and this is inevitably creating much greater pressure on the imbalance between progress and nature conservation. In view of this, zoos and nature-related institutions should be more aware of this new trend and look to the west especially in terms of the introduction and implementation of some new regulations to simplify the legal movement and import-export procedure of live materials.

In this way, new concepts of butterfly houses and insect zoos will be popularised for the good of education, promotion of nature awareness and environmental sustainability and hopefully in the long run will help in the conservation of butterflies in the Asian Region.


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