In June 2009, Arjan Basu Roy upon returning from Japan was teeming with ideas on incorporation of conservation with butterfly gardening.
Butterfly gardens have been a hugely successful concept in Japan and attract visitors from far ends of the nation. This concept had not yet been initiated in West Bengal and Arjan knew Nature Mates can not only aid in conservation initiatives, but also help involve the masses in them. We had been involved in conservation initiatives across West Bengal but this was the first time we were focusing on butterflies. Our very first opportunity came on one fine November morning in 2009 when Mr. Nilanjan Mallick (IFS) called Arjan with the proposal to create the very first butterfly conservatory in Banabitan, Salt Lake. His happiness knew no bounds as the first seed of his idea was about to be sown. Creating a habitat for butterflies not only helps conserve the array of host and nectar plants on which they depend but also invites other insects like honeybees, wasps, odonates, beetles, spiders, cicadas, etc. as well as reptiles, amphibians, birds and even mammals like mongoose, rats can build their homes. This is a classic ‘bottom-up’ model of conservation and goes strongly with our motto ‘If you want to conserve Tigers, start by conserving Blue Tigers, Plain Tigers, and Striped Tigers’. We also needed a laboratory support which would ensure a stable butterfly population across the year as well as let us venture into research areas. This in turn helps policy makers shape conservation initiatives.
|Caterpillar rearing and cleaning at Banabitan||Butterfly release event at Banabitan|
|Butterfly release event at Banabitan||Activity in garden at Banabitan|
Our first laboratory in Banabitan was just a tiny cycle shed for gardeners under a water tank. During the initial days we were blessed to have Subhankar Patra, Radhanath Polley, Rudra Prasad Das, Tamalika Chakraborty, Jayita Mukherjee, Soumya Sarkar, Debopriya Sarkar, Sunil Jaiswal and Dhansingh Tamang in our corner whose hard work helped us tremendously. Soon we had three permanent team members, Sarika, Devsena and Anwesha, all college students then. Sarika learnt how to look for early stages, rear caterpillars, raise saplings and all other related teachings from Dhansingh. We moved out of the shed in a few months as our facilities kept growing and our focus started to shift towards research. Mr. Sourav Chaudhury, IFS was instrumental at that stage and we soon had our very own laboratory. We used to enthusiastically search nearby neighborhoods for early stages and lug everything back to our laboratory space. Every new species added to our rearing list was a cause for celebration! Banabitan Butterfly Garden has recorded almost 100 visitor species and we have reared more than 60 of those. The day to day activities are currently looked after by our member Chaitali, an ardent nature enthusiast.
Ms Sumita Ghatak, IFS soon came into the picture. Things started to click! We got the huge opportunity of surveying Gorumara National Park in 2013. Our intensive surveys lead to publishing of ‘Butterflies of Gorumara National Park’ as well as creation of our second butterfly conservatory in Ramsai in December 2013. There was a patch of fallow land next to the main entrance gate of Gorumara National Park and it would be ours if we could set up our facilities there. We have always believed in capacity building and providing employment opportunities to members of local communities where we work.
|Dome enclosure before plantation at Eco Park||Present condition of dome enclosure at Eco Park||Awareness programme for students at Eco Park|
|Awareness programme for students at Eco Park||Awareness programme for students at Eco Park||Biodiversity Marathon No. 9 at Eco Park|
|Training workshop on butterfly biology at Eco Park||Biodiversity Marathon No. 9 at Eco Park||Laboratory at Eco Park|
Thus, we chose our newest recruits from Ramsai community for regular maintenance of laboratory facilities on site. The process seemed to be a learning curve in itself because we had to single out those who had an aptitude for butterfly identification and train them rigorously. We spent more than 6 months on site with our newest recruits, Pinki, Dipa, Pompi and Sameer. With a bit of patience and a lot of scolding we were able to get through to them! Our days consisted of waking up early in the morning, gathering our troops and spending hours on field dutifully to identify host plants, early stages of butterflies as well as learning the basics of butterfly biology. After rigorous field work coupled with learning we started off on our journey. That laboratory has been running for almost 6 years now and we have completed life cycle of 60 species during that duration and more than 105 butterfly species has visited our garden.
Our efforts started to bloom and soon, in 2014, the scent of our blooming success reached to the chairman of WBHIDCO, Mr. Debashis Sen (IAS). He was on a mission to develop Newtown as a green zone and Eco-tourism Park was his crown jewel. He wanted a butterfly garden with the facility of a dome enclosure. The idea was to have a one stop destination to aware the common people who visit the Eco-tourism Park Butterfly Garden on the dire need to conserve habitats around us and how each one of us can make small contributions on our own. The garden was inaugurated by our Hon’ble Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. We currently have an 8 member team here ensuring day to day smooth sailing. Sarika is the project coordinator and over the years has managed to assemble a ragtag team of members: Namrata, Raju, Amanul, Souparno, Archan, Arka and Priya.
|Plantation work at Kulik Butterfly Conservatory||Butterfly release event at Kulik Butterfly Conservatory|
Eco-tourism Park Butterfly Garden is spread over 3 acres and within this area we have over 200 species of trees, herbs, shrubs and creepers, two ponds, a dome enclosure and a laboratory. Over the course of 5 years, 100 butterfly species have visited our garden and we have completed life cycle of over 65 of those species. Our laboratory has steadily been carrying out several research projects both independently as well as in collaboration with research institutes and have had over 30 interns as well as MSc. students who have completed their dissertations here. We regularly carry out educational campaigns for school and college students to teach introductory lessons on butterfly biology and the importance of butterfly conservation. We try to provide hands on experience to college students who visit our garden to complete a portion of their Zoology curriculum. Our enclosure has an annual footfall of more than 2 lakh people and thus provides us with a unique opportunity to spread awareness on a gigantic scale. We also host a butterfly release program wherein a newly eclosed butterfly is released by the visitors themselves to help them feel closer to nature. During the weekend we host audio-visual documentaries detailing butterfly life cycle for our enthusiastic visitors.
Our next conservatory was in Rajabhatkhawa, Buxa Tiger Reserve. We have been working in Buxa for over 7 years studying butterfly and host plant interactions as well as carrying out butterfly diversity studies. Mr. Ujjal Ghosh, IFS was Field Director of Buxa back then. He is extremely passionate about butterflies and avidly documents every find. He was enthusiastic about our work ethics and research inclinations and soon a 7 acre land next to Leo House in Rajabhatkhawa was selected as the site of our newest conservatory. Our team member comprises of Tamaghna, Prakash and Jirmiya. Tamaghna is a butterfly enthusiast from Alipurduar Town, while Prakash was dependent on forest resources to support his livelihood and Jirmiya is a member of Rava Tribe. Our team has documented 105 visitor species from our conservatory since January 2019 out of which 50 has already completed their life cycle.
|Activity in garden at Rajabhatkhawa Butterfly Conservatory||Butterfly India Meet at Rajabhatkhawa Butterfly Conservatory|
|Forest staff training programme at Rajabhatkhawa Butterfly Conservatory||Common Birdwing on mango flowers at Rajabhatkhawa Butterfly Conservatory|
Mr. Subhankar Sen Gupta, IFS is the Field Director currently. He has been instrumental in encouraging us to compile the findings from our surveys and finally a book entitled ‘Butterflies of Buxa Tiger Reserve’ was published in 2020.
Kulik Butterfly Conservatory was established next. Mr. Dwiparna Kr. Das, WBFS had visited Eco-tourism Park Butterfly Garden once and fell in love with the concept of butterfly gardening and how a habitat created for butterflies will slowly attract several other species as well. Our butterfly conservatory is situated opposite to the Kulik Bird Sanctuary which is home to the largest population of Asian Openbill Storks in India. Though the butterfly conservatory started its journey in September 2018 more than 60 number of butterfly species has already visited out of which 27 species has completed their life cycle.
We have established more than 20 butterfly gardens across several schools, colleges and institutes and have been slowly setting up urban green corners for butterflies to thrive. Our dream is to make West Bengal into the ‘State of Butterflies’.
|Plantation work at Ramsai Butterfly Conservatory||Setting up of information boards at Ramsai Butterfly Conservatory||Awareness programme for students at Ramsai Butterfly Conservatory|
We have also hosted two Biodiversity Marathons in collaboration with National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) at our conservatories in Banabitan and Eco-tourism Park in 2018 and 2019 respectively to make people cognizant on the importance of Citizen Science initiatives and how contributing to online portals such as ifoundbutterflies.org will help further conservation initiatives.
We have been blessed to have mentors like Dr. Krushnamegh Kunte whose guidance has helped shape our research drive and given clarity to our thoughts. Our passion for field work focusing on life history evolution traits has found direction under his counsel. His enthusiasm bounces off of us and fuels our drive. We have also forged intangible relationships with our state Forest Department and have received unending counsel and support from Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCFs) to beat officers and every single forest staff.
Our slow but steady journey of butterfly conservation has been an extremely satisfactory one. We have been lucky enough to have been a part of stories where the tea estate workers in Ramsai who used to spray pesticides and kill early stages of butterflies now drop by our laboratory to hand them over to us. Similarly, the gardeners of our conservatories who once used to indiscriminately de-weed our gardens are now the ones who protect every single weed used by butterflies as host. And these small gestures make us realize the impact our conservation models have at the ground level. We have always strived to provide income opportunities to local stakeholders because they are the direct beneficiaries of the successes of our projects. This will ensure meaningful impacts within local communities in the long term. An annual footfall of more than 3 lakh visitors across all our conservatories gives us the singular scope to aware people on the dire need of conservation of smaller insects.