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Rare butterflies closer to extintion

The disappearance of rare butterflies found in the cold deserts of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh due to tourism and developmental activity is becoming an issue of concern for zoologists, Satyen Mohapatra reports.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2009 23:27 IST
Satyen Mohapatra

The disappearance of rare butterflies found in the cold deserts of Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh due to tourism and developmental activity is becoming an issue of concern for zoologists.

According to Officer in charge High Altitude Regional Centre of the Zoological Survey of India in Solan, H S Mehta " Nearly 50 per cent of the recorded 288 species found in these areas are not to be seen today."

He said HARC had undertaken surveys in the Greater Himalayas in the alpine regions above 10,000 feet adjoining Rohtang Pass, in the Trans Himalayan region of Ladakh, Zanskar and Karkakoram Pass and in the Lower Himalayan region consisting of the Sivalik ranges.

"Our survey shows that there may be an estimated loss of 30 per cent in the population of butterflies."

"The reason for this drop is due to the destruction of habitat, deforestation and man made activities which have a direct or indirect impact on the eco system,"he said.

Pollution due to increase in tourist traffic and vehicular traffic to Rohtang Pass and other passes disturb the eco-system of the region,he added.

"Today construction of roads is being carried out in a big way in Ladakh and other areas of Himachal Pradesh, there are construction of high altitude dams and diversion of water channels all of which disturb the vegetation."

The increase in the number of vehicles due to inflow of tourists in these areas and increase in pollution further adds to the degradation of the habitat for the butterflies.

"Kalatop in Khajjiar is an important place where one can see 50 to 60 different species of butterflies but then tourism traffic is very high in this area which is a threat. One cannot preserve habitat for butterfly and develop tourism in a commercial way. How these things can run parallel ? "he asked.

He said developmental activities and tourism activities have to be restricted in these areas of Himalayas.

Butterflies are accidental pollinators as well as pests for some medicinal plants. They breed on specific plants Murraya Koenigii ('kaddi patta'), castor oil plant, with the larvae feeding on the leaves of these plants.

"Butterflies are the indicators of the health of the eco system.The natural equilibrium of the eco system is disturbed when there is a drop in the population of the butterflies."

Besides sucking nectar from flowers, butterflies are also known to go and lick salt from water sources known as mud-puddling,he said.

Dr. Avtar Kaur Sidhu of High Altitude Regional Centre, talking to the Hindustan Times said, "In 1929 Bhilaru Pumping station in Mussoorie was recorded as a hot spot for butterflies with over hundred different species to be found. Zoologist Ollenbach recorded to have counted over 100 species there.Thirty three years later in 1962 zoologist Shull also recorded finding more than 100 species at the spot."

"I visited the same spot in 1994 and found only 70-80 different species. When I revisited the spot in 2006 , shops had come up there and hardly any butterflies were to be seen,"she added.

"Surveys in Ladakh and Pangi valley (remotest area of Himachal Pradesh) showed that 40 per cent of the butterfly species are not to be seen anymore," she said.

"Some species of butterflies like 'snow apollos' which inhabit typical alpine regions above 2,400 to 2,700 metres above the sea level are prized butterflies and come under the Schedule II, Part II of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972 .

"One species of Apollo butterfly known as Common Red Apollo ( a protected species) was seen by us near Khardungla Pass at the altitude of 4,000 metres. Its population was adequate but we found many of the specimens dead under the tyres due to vehicular traffic."

Lofty bath a medium sized totally white butterfly with little black streaks, which does not fly very high was reported from all over Kumaon region several years ago but now is restricted to pockets of Himalayas near Khardungla pass,she said.

Several typical high altitude species need urgent conservation due to their decreasing population which include dusky green underwing , common meadow blue,white line blue, violet meadow blue,striated styr, she added.