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Conservation through development:
butterfly farming

Female Hypolimnas misippus feeding on a flower


Many people living in or near forests do not recognize the high value that forest resources can represent and thus are not often involved in conservation efforts. Making local communities aware of the benefits of natural resources can help encourage them to become involved in their conservation. In many tropical countries, such as Belize, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore, an activity has been promoted that provides much-needed income and, at the same time, encourages forest conservation: butterfly farming.

Butterfly farming is well suited as an alternative income source for forest people because it requires little investment, the basic skills and concepts are easily learned and it uses simple equipment and materials. It involves the release of female butterflies, wild or bred in captivity, into enclosures filled with an abundance of native plants and the subsequent removal of ova laid by these individuals. The eggs are then placed in cages where they are monitored throughout their development into pupae. Alternatively, eggs and/or pupae can be harvested from the protected forest. The pupae are then collected and shipped to butterfly exhibits and other clients around the world. Successful farming of native butterflies depends on the native vegetation of the area that provides the habitat for these species. As a result, butterfly farmers are encouraged to conserve their forests, as they see the linkage between their livelihood and the presence of healthy forested areas.

Pupae collected and ready for export



Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, covering an area of 42 000 ha on Kenya's north coast, is internationally recognized as a biologically important area providing essential habitat for numerous endemic, endangered and threatened animal and plant species. This forest is the last remaining section of coastal forest that once extended from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. Approximately 110 000 people live in the forest. Rapid population growth has placed considerable pressure on the forest for provision of wood for fuel and construction, as well as meat and agricultural land. The long-term future of the forest depends on the support of the local people, their leaders and politicians for its conservation.

The Kipepeo Project, administrated by the East African Natural History Society in partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, was set up in 1993. The objectives of the project are to:

The project initially involved 152 households in four communities on the eastern margin of the forest. By early 2001 there were 546 farmers involved in the project, representing 15 of the 18 communities in and around the forest, and plans had begun to involve the remaining three communities.

To determine the effect of capture on butterfly species abundance and diversity, wild butterfly populations in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest were monitored before the start of the project and after four years of collection. The results revealed no significant change in abundance of either collected or uncollected species, suggesting that butterfly capture was having no profound impact on wild populations.

Problems encountered by the project include vulnerability of butterfly populations to unfavourable weather, diseases and parasites, delays in transport, changing markets, increased competition and overproduction.

However, the overall effects of the project on both the forest and rural communities have been positive. Earnings from the export of butterfly pupae and ecotourism have steadily increased with each year of operation, resulting in considerable increases in local incomes. A positive effect on local attitudes towards the forest was also observed as illustrated by attitudinal surveys taken before and after the start of the project. The proportion of people wanting the forest cleared for settlement or agricultural land dropped by almost 75 percent within four years, indicating an increased awareness of the value of forests.

Earnings from butterfly farming have improved household ivelihoods of communities living on the edge of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest


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