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08.06.2003 Feature Article

Let's Exploit Our Butterflies as Ecotourism Product

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The butterfly is fast emerging as one of the leading ecotourism products the World over.

Many people travel to visit butterfly gardens far away from their homes or Countries to view and photograph beautiful butterflies across the World. While some butterfly lovers just want to have a close look at them either in flight, or study their wings as they perch on flowers busily sucking nectar, others collect different sizes, and species and make collages of them and mount exhibitions for auction sales or just display them in their living rooms and even their offices. Today, textile designers study patterns on butterfly wings and replicate them on fabrics.

In the Western Countries,, people hold butterflies in their palms at wedding ceremonies say their wish for the newly wedded and release the butterflies. They believe that the butterflies carry the wishes to God. Recently in Costa Rica, members of parliament took part in butterfly release as part of a fund raising event for street children. As each legislator release a butterfly, he would call out loud the name of a child. The butterfly he released represented the life and aspirations of that child. One could perceive the collective hearts of those present fly up with each passing butterfly.

Interest in the Lepidoptera became serious business for many people in the Western world during the Victorian era, roughly 1860-1910. AT that time, members of the English aristocracy, endowed with wealth and leisure derived from the United Kingdom’s flourishing empire collected and identified and catalogued Lepidoptera from all over the world. At one point, Lord Rothschild employed over 400 explorers and colonists all over the World collecting butterflies on his behalf. Lord Rothschild’s butterfly collection is regarded as the single largest personal collection of butterflies ever.

Since the Victorian era, butterflies have been the subject of great interest for thousands of biologists and amateur enthusiasts. Today, there are hobbyists particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States of America who rear butterflies from around the World in their backyards.

Butterfly exhibition is another fast growing industry. Everyday of the year witness a butterfly exhibition somewhere in the World. In America, the Niagara parks commission’s butterfly garden is a 15 million US dollar facility and was opened in December, 1996. During one weekend in January, it received 20,000 visitors.

In Ghana’s traditional folklore, butterflies represent inconsistency probably due its quick flight from flower to flower. A person who is a flirt may easily be referred to as a “butterfly”. Butterflies occur at several places in Ghana which include the Hohoe area, near the Wli water falls, Bobobiri in the Asante Region, Atewa hills in the Easter Region, Kakum forest in the Central Region and Ankasa in the Western Region and many other locations but in smaller numbers.

The potential of Ghana as good butterfly viewing and collection destination is not a joke, when our varieties of species are considered. Dr. Torben Larsen (butterfly scientist) counted 400 species of butterflies at Kakum in 1992, and discovered the “Diopetes Kakumii” a new magnificent butterfly hitherto unknown to science. Ghana is also home to the male giant Papilio (Papilio Antimachus), the second largest butterfly in the world which can attain a wing span of 10.5 inches. The female can attain 7 inches. Papilio is found in the Atewa hills in the Eastern Region. Other species in Atewa which are of global importance because of their high endemic status are the acrea kibi, mylothris atewa, deutorix sp.nov and the calaenorrhinus. They are mostly concentrated at Sagyimase where they are being collected under the guise of scientific research.

This writer has been to Atewa and Wli to view butterflies and can testify that rare and amazingly beautiful species of these winged jewels inhibit our sunny rainforest canopies, feeding on nectar-filled flowers growing many metres above ground level. They only come to earth when the canopy dips into river channels or natural openings or they have to be attracted by other means, and the butterfly garden is what does the trick. A typical butterfly garden is a half-acre of land; it may be bigger or otherwise. It is not capital intensive, can be cultivated at the edge of the forest by creating conditions that will attract these magnificent insects. When butterfly gardens are cultivated at the edge of forests, access to the forest is somehow restricted thus reducing human impacts on the forest. Protecting the environment while generating income from it , is the spirit of all ecotourism projects. Butterfly gardens are a delight to see.

Most butterfly garden projects are community based. They focus on poverty alleviation through employment generation for community folks. There are several of such projects in Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and several other places across the World. There are a few taking shape in Ghana at Bobiri in Asante Region and another by the Ghana Wildlife Society in the Volta Region. The income generating ability of the butterfly does not lie only in the butterfly garden but also in the export of butterfly pupae.

The Papua New Guinea butterfly industry fetches 400.000 US dollars annually, with a pair of ornithoptera paradisea 100 US dollars. The Ornitthoptera Alexandrae which, the rarest and largest butterfly in the World which can attain a wingspan of 27cm attracts a retail price of 500 US dollars. The good news is that the World’s second largest butterfly, the papilio antimacus is found in the Atewa forest of Ghana around Sagyimase together with several other species. The Sagyimase butterfly sanctuary is yet to be exploited to the advantage of the surrounding Communities. The butterflies and the Communities are waiting for the district assembly or any investor ready to go into partnership with the people.

Tourism business is not government business it is a private sector business, governments just make legislation and policies and ensured they are adhered to. Let us therefore not wait for a presidential initiative on butterflies. Let the district assemblies and the communities get together, and take advantage of the butterfly resource in a viable Community based ecotourism venture.

The butterfly gardens will bring these winged jewels of the tropical rain forest closer and concentrated at specific locations which will attract domestic and international tourists.

As tourists come, there will be the nee for ecolodges (guest houses), guides for bush walks, entertainment groups, and refreshment centers, food preparation and craft shops. These ventures would bring money in to the pockets of folks in the attraction areas. This is how ecotourism can transform the economic lives of poor communities. And with each visitor comes another economic reason to maintain our rainforests. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Richard Kwame Debrah
Richard Kwame Debrah, © 2003

The author has 10 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RichardKwameDebrah

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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