The Yellow Birdwing once known as the Common Birdwing is no longer common. You may think it is unlikely to see a butterfly which was once commonly found in most of parts of Penang, now in peril. You may think Penang still has plenty of forests and why is this species not common anymore? But have you ever seen one lately?
What Are The Major Threats To The Yellow Birdwing Butterflies in Penang?
The threats to these butterflies are all linked to changes made to their natural habitats:
1) deforestation caused by industrialization, urbanization and agricultural land conversion and intensification
2) forest disturbance causing elimination of food plants by accident / ignorance
3) isolation of species which causes in-breeding (brother-sister matings)
4) natural environment and climate changes (non-human intervention)
Endangered or Protected?
Just like many other creatures which are closely guarded by the laws, the Yellow Birdwing is a protected species under the Malaysian Wildlife Act as well as under the Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). While we all know it is a protected species under various laws locally and internationally, do you really think that it is being protected at all cost? Are we sure by doing this we have done enough to protect a species from extinction? Being protected by the law doesn't mean the law is protecting the butterfly from physical harm or extinction. The status of a species being protected merely tells you that the numbers are dwindling or there is just overwhelming trade of the species and that it should be regulated. However, such things don't stop houses and factories being build over wildlife habitats. It doesn't stop forest land being converted into agricultural and industrial land. It doesn't stop climate change immediately. And such government adopted policies and rules don't put in any effort to plant more butterfly host plants either. If humans do nothing to protect wildlife, the law doesn't work any better. So if you realise by now, the law to protect is never a cure or prevention against species extinction.
So what is the real status of the Yellow Birdwing butterfly?
Unfortunately, very few people have seriously done any research into the wild to count the poplulation or even try to understand its distribution properly. Based on our years of experience gained through butterfly farming and news gathered locally and abroad, our shared stories and findings have always come out with similar stories... that many local butterflies species are dwindling, some are no longer found in their usual locations and over the years, the law that protects does not seem to be doing anything to increase back those dwindling numbers, and who guessed the law could not even prevent destruction of butterfly habitats which has been gazetted as protected - Ouch! So over the years, we became very concerned and we had no choice but to find a solution to those threats listed above regardless of what they claim the status is....
So we know that if not many were breeding butterflies to increase its population, no one spotting any Troides helena in urban areas of Penang and not even in the wild (Penang National Park) most of the time, it means there is a very high chance that this butterfly is ALMOST very close to local extinction (relatively true by the million of years butterflies have existed and evolved). Now, we're all very lucky as it is not yet extinct from Penang because... we are still breeding them in Teluk Bahang at the Penang Butterfly Farm and releasing them back to the wild every now then. But even then, it is without any doubt that they no longer exist in many parts of Penang like they once do.
The Days Ahead Is Up To You
Are these butterflies depending on we humans? Definitely not, because they depend very much on their food plants that were taken away from them. Now that you are aware, we have a few choices ahead - ignore these facts and chase all wildlife away with development and modernisation or try our best to save all wildlife from dissapearing including these butterflies?
To us, there is always a solution and it is not difficult for humans to live in harmony with Mother Nature and all its living creatures, only if we wish to. Through the wisdom of Mother Nature, a possible solution has been found to save our butterflies without stopping the nation's development. But of course, we still need both time and resources to carry out such a solution.
Do you wish to see Yellow Birdwings everyday and live in harmony with butterflies? Perhaps, with the right choices we make today, we can all live to experience nature's biodiversity in our own homes, schools and offices someday.
The Yellow Birdwing (Troides helena)