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Posted by Rashi on February 12, 2015 at 8:40 AM

While surfing the net I came across an article on butterfly smuggling by 'The New Indian Express' which is a sad truth and major steps should be taken against this inhuman act.


12/02/2015 Illegal trade of butterflies 2/3

Butterflies have been called ‘nature’s jewels’, but they are far more than pretty little insects. They are indispensable to successful farming. Butterflies

have immense economic value as pollinators — globally their value to agriculture per year is estimated at $200 billion, second only to the honeybee.

And to fragile ecosystems, like the Himalayas where the summers are relatively short, the removal of a single species like the Kaisar-i-Hind could have

a devastating chain effect. For instance, apple producers in the Himalayas complain of a decline in yield and quality due to the lack of insect pollinators,

including butterflies and moths, in the flowering season.  

With its varied climatic zones, India is a haven of diversity, and this extends to butterfly species as well. According to Ashok Kumar, a former IAS officer

who has worked for the Andhra Pradesh Wildlife Advisory board and is vice president of the Butterfly Conservation Society, the North East alone has

about 900 species, compared to 56 in the whole of the UK. The sheer diversity of species is mind-boggling, he says. No wonder the ‘bio-pirates’ are

dazzled by the wealth they confront, literally.

Some species are worth astronomical sums. For instance, high-altitude butterflies like the Bhutan Glory, Kaisar-i-Hind, Pale Jezebel, Atlas Moth and the

Ladakh Banded Apollo, fetch up to Rs 20,000 apiece in the international market. That is a staggering sum by the standards of the workers who do the

actual collecting, and a reason why they are paid well for their labours.

Today’s market for butterflies is a bit like the shark fin craze, everyone wants it because they can all afford it.  Earlier, only collectors bought

butterflies but now it’s a business that’s diversified as it expands. In Southeast Asia, Kumar says they are used in greeting cards, paper weights, even

jewellery. And in Europe and North America many people planning to start butterfly farms are always looking for exotic species. All this has put serious

strains on many butterfly populations in the country.

Arjan Basu Roy, vice president of Naturemates, an NGO in Calcutta which does butterfly surveys in and around West Bengal, says the problem is that

butterfly collection is not outlawed in other countries. While collection in India is clearly banned by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the global trade in

butterflies is worth something like $200 million. Those unfamiliar with this concept need only check out websites like to see the

scale on which it happens.

During a recent survey around the Darjeeling area, Roy was amazed to find that most of the major species had almost disappeared. Perhaps one or

two of each species were spotted. Ironically, it was on a visit to Japan that he spotted a Bhutan Glory that was up for sale. It had been collected in 1999.

His inquiries turned up stocks of other Indian species, available since 2003.

The key to this operation is the local factor. “They form an essential link in the smuggling route, because after collection the butterflies are sent either to

Nepal or Myanmar where Indian laws don’t apply. From there they can be transported out. Locals who cross the border on foot are never even

questioned or searched so it’s almost impossible to detect,” says Roy.

Experts in the conservation business rue the fact that more attention isn’t paid to the depletion of insect populations, both through smuggling and

environmental degradation. According to Tej Kumar, president of the Butterfly Conservation Society in Andhra, wildlife conservation in India has come to

focus almost exclusively on the tiger. “More awareness is needed among customs and forest officials because that’s one major reason why insect

smugglers get away— these officials are not able to identify when they are taking away rare or endangered species.”

He also says the laws need to be looked at again. “We have a complicated system. The Wildlife Protection Act has four schedules under which different

species are included. And it’s only if someone is found with one of these that action can be taken. Also, while some common species are included in

the Act, certain species endemic to the Western Ghats, for instance, and thus more important, will not be included.” The question is, will everyone wake

up to notice only after the butterflies are gone?

The Indiana Jones of butterfly smuggling

In 2006, a Japanese man in Los Angeles called Hisayoshi Kojima who described himself as the world’s most wanted butterfly smuggler was

apprehended and sentenced to 21 months in prison. He was caught after an undercover operation that lasted nearly three years.


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1 Comment

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