Butterflies-Why Our Most Beautiful Friends  Are In Rapid Decline?

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Butterflies are recognized the world over as the most beautify  insects. Just watching them  fly  or sitting on a flower is such a  source of joy. Children can spend a long time doing just this, or running after them. Just as I was writing this, I heard a few children call out. They were looking with undiluted joy at a pair of butterflies  flying together very fast in a zig-zag way as though playing catch-me-if-you-can. Two children saw this and called out to others to show them the delightful gymnastics of the pair in air.

However  butterflies are not just a source of joy and happiness. Butterflies and moths are also very important pollinators and contribute  much to the well-being of farming and biodiversity as well as our essential food supplies.

So it is very sad and deeply worrying to know that butterfly numbers are declining fast in most parts of the world. Various studies show declines of between 30 per cent to as much as 90 per cent. Several species of butterflies have become extinct, many more are on the verge.

This is happening due to many wider factors, as well as some cruel practices specific to butterflies.

The wider factors include the widespread use of chemical pesticides and  herbicides, the introduction of GM crops,  the loss of biodiversity, decline of many indigenous species of plants and flowers. Chemical pesticides have proved to be the most  harmful for these gentle and fragile insects. Climate change is another adverse factor whose impact is likely to increase as the years go by.

In addition there are very several important factors specific to butterflies. Ironically it is their very beauty which has become the reason for their cruel exploitation at the hands of cruel forces which see butterflies mainly as  a source of commercial profit.  According to a study of year 2005, illegal trade of butterflies was estimated at 100 million dollars in one year at world level. This takes the form of butterfly leaves being used in a range of products from jewelry to knick-knacks like paper weights, pen-stands etc. Some of the products are made in ways which involve a lot of cruelty.

A large number of butterflies are smuggled from several countries, including India.  Even live butterflies are ordered, on-line or in other ways, by some persons. These are sent frozen conditions and may die in transit. Some procure large number of butterflies for their release on  special events. These butterflies often die soon, or spread new diseases among local species. Others capture butterflies for study, experimentation and decoration.

All these factors are causing a lot of pain and distress to butterflies, and in addition also leading to their rapid decline. Butterflies need more ecologically protective conditions for their survival. All cruel practices against them should be strictly banned. This is all the more necessary in regions like the Himalayan region and the Western Ghats where several illegal activities are known to exist keeping in view also that these are regions are home to much sought-after butterfly species.

Breeding of butterflies in special butterfly farms takes place for conservation as well as for commercial purposes. The former may be useful to some extent but the later is certainly harmful. However  even the former  cannot be a replacement  for the protection of butterflies and moth in natural and wilderness conditions. Sometimes breeding of exotic species proves harmful for indigenous species in direct and indirect ways.

For actual protection at all levels a ban or at least very big reduction in pesticides and herbicides is needed. All cruelty practices should also be banned immediately and the ban should also be implemented strictly.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.



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