29 June 2009

Butterfly Conservation Dialogue

Butterfly Conservation Dialogue
with Dr Laurence Kirton (FRIM) and Horace Tan

On Sunday 28 Jun 09, about fifty members and friends of ButterflyCircle and NParks' staff were treated to a Butterfly Conservation Dialogue with prominent entomologist and butterfly guru from the Forest Reseach Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), Dr Laurence Kirton and our local expert 'cat-farmer' Horace Tan of ButterflyCircle.

Held at the Function Hall of the Botany Centre, Singapore Botanic Gardens, the audience had a thought provoking afternoon about butterfly conservation issues.

The dialogue was preambled by Khew, who shared some of the statistics of extant butterfly species in Singapore, and discussed a translocation project, Save the Harlequin. This project was featured in earlier articles in this Blog. With the successful completion of the Butterfly Garden at Hort Park for research and educational purposes, one of the objectives of the Butterfly Garden is to conduct research on some species which have gone extinct in Singapore, with the hope of eventual re-introduction back into Singapore. To address concerns of human intervention and interfering with the natural course of things in nature, studies will be carried out, as well as establishing sustainable critical mass of host plants for the respective species before any re-introduction is carried out.

Dr Laurence Kirton then took the stage, and shared some grim facts and figures about the world's de-forestation woes and the rapid rate of habitat loss in South East Asia. In terms of biodiversity conservation, Dr Kirton highlighted the iconic status of butterflies as a means of attracting attention on conservation issues. Butterflies being attractive and colourful, appeal to the masses and hence is a good taxonomic group to focus on, when talking about biodiversity conservation in South East Asian countries.

Dr Kirton then went on to discuss the issues of taxonomic problems in identifying species and the constant evolution of naming and revising the identification of genera, species and subspecies in the region. As new and relevant information from research become available, it is unavoidable that taxonomic names of butterflies are often amended and updated. He also cited areas where there is still much work to be done, like the early stages of butterflies.

Members of ButterflyCircle and friends in the audience

Aspects of butterfly distribution, identification of habitats and ecology were also discussed and their importance stressed. Dr Kirton shared his views on the importance of education and awareness and this is where interest groups like ButterflyCircle play an important role in helping create greater awareness of conservation and other related issues. With the pervasive use of the Internet, the use of IT has catapulted communication and interaction in the cyber world to a level which will continue to affect our lives, and keeping in touch within the nature circles and sharing of information is easier than in the past. There is also a need for good guide books and attractive literature to help the general public to learn and have a greater awareness of butterflies and the impact of environmental degradation on their survival.

Like all good talks, there will always be good food for the growling tummies as well

After a short tea break, Horace Tan, ButterflyCircle's Chief cat farmer and early stages expert, shared his graphic-intensive presentation on the wide spectrum of the characteristics of the life histories of Singapore's Butterfly Fauna. Keeping the audience thrilled with his super-macro shots of eggs, caterpillars and pupae, Horace also added his amazing time-lapse sequence animations of caterpillars eating out of their eggshells, and the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a pupa. It was an entertaining session as Horace presented early stages material seen for the first time in public.

Horace, our Chief Cat-Farmer, sharing the finer aspects of the life histories of butterflies

Dr Kirton then returned to the lectern to talk about his proposal for a standardisation of English Common names of butterflies. Whilst biologists and taxonomists embrace and prefer the use of scientific latin names, the importance of Common names becomes a critical issue with the ordinary folk and nature enthusiasts. Currently, common names are easily "invented" and spread across the region by individuals and authors of books. However, problems occur when a same species is called by several different common names, causing confusion amongst butterfly enthusiasts.

It was therefore timely that a common standard be proposed for Malaysian and Singaporean butterfly species. Dr Kirton went on to elaborate the terms of reference for the Working Group, Selection Committee and Main Steering Committee and a structured and systematic process for decision making. He also shared the Excel database on research into existing common names, and how volunteers can populate the database through their research and work. This can then be used as a reference for the Selection Committee to decide and register the most favoured common name for the two countries. Dr Kirton also invited volunteers to come forth to help with their time and research and to key in information into the database.

After a short but spirited Q&A session amongst the participants, the Butterfly Conservation Dialogue was called to a close at around 6:30pm. A good crowd stayed back for the full afternoon and this showed the enthusiasm and interest amongst the audience. It was ButterflyCircle's first successful talk to members and friends, and it is envisaged that there will be other future talks for members on a variety of subjects dealing with butterflies.

ButterflyCircle would like to extend its sincere appreciation to Dr Laurence Kirton, who came down all the way from Kuala Lumpur to share his wisdom and experience with Singapore, and Horace Tan for his excellent work in life histories and impressive presentations, and to all members of the audience who showed their enthusiasm and support for the dialogue.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by Bobby Mun

Special thanks to :
  • Director and General Manager, Singapore Botanic Gardens, for the complimentary use of the Function Hall at Botany Center
  • Senior Management and Staff of National Parks Board
  • Anthony Wong (for being Treasurer for the event)
  • Bobby Mun (for being official photographer for the event)


Henry Koh said...

Kind of miss butterfly after reading this article. Great stuff here indeed.

Commander said...

Henry, you're always free to come back and join in the fun. Leave the fishes alone! ;-)

Ben the Butterfly Guy said...

Deforestation is a problem that you find in many ecosystems around the world for different reasons that are directly responsible for the endangering of butterflies and their migration patterns, look at how the bark beetle is eating the destination points of the Monarch in Mexico...


or how cattle ranching and not logging is the true culprit to deforestation in Brazil