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How a unwieldy patch of green turned into butterfly haven in Bengaluru

Pale Grass Blue butterfly

Pale Grass Blue butterfly   | Photo Credit: K. Murali Kumar

A club, a forest officer and a scientist made Doresanipalya Forest Research Station come alive

Roughly two decades ago, Doresanipalya Forest Research Station, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, found itself ambushed by a ring of glass and concrete monoliths. Borewells on the 91 acre campus began to dry up. Research came to a halt. But the campus stayed green.

In fact, nature took over with a vengeance: vines, shrubs and weeds overran the place. And the campus turned into a paradise for butterflies: a staggering 130 species to be precise.

The Bangalore Butterfly Club (BBC) decided that this oasis of green must be put on their butterfly-spotting map. That was six years ago. Now, the research station has become a space for vibrant collaborations between the club, researchers and forest officers.

Every fortnight, Rohit Girotra, a management professional, gathers a group of enthusiasts and the merely butterfly-curious. The free, guided walks through the campus usually take three hours. Those with cameras crouch, bend and hold their breath to capture the frisky beauties. Girotra regales newcomers with curious factoids about the species they spot. I learn that the blue tiger, dark blue tiger, common crow and double-branded crow migrate from the Western to the Eastern Ghats. That the crimson rose, thanks to a mistake in the 70s, gets the same legal protection as the tiger. The winged nawabs, rajahs, pancies, admirals, mormons, barons and dukes, all spark off etymological trails.

Fun walks

Doresanipalya has always been a good butterfly habitat. But now, with the help of the forest department, the habitat has been strengthened more, says Girotra. The club’s observation lists have gone up from 117 to more than 133 now, and populations have risen too, thanks to the planting of host plants.

Common Grass Yellow butterfly

Common Grass Yellow butterfly   | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

 

The walks are fun for hobbyists but are also part of a long-term, scientific endeavour initiated by Krushnamegh Kunte, an associate professor with National Centre for Biological Sciences.

The club, with nearly 400 members, has become an important source of citizen science; members upload pictures in Kunte’s butterfly database (ifoundbutterflies.org), they gather data on specie distributions. “This has been a beautiful collaboration. We now have a data set of over 56,000 reference images from across the country, perhaps the largest of its kind in any developing country,” says Kunte. The data has led to conservation efforts too: from finding rare and endangered species to giving inputs to forest department.

Quick results

This effort found a collaborator in Sanjay Mohan, an Indian Forest Service officer who was posted as head of forest research until last year. With his help, exotic species such as eucalyptus and acacia were gradually cut down and replaced with host plants that attract butterflies. The results became quickly apparent.

Tawny Coster butterfly

Tawny Coster butterfly   | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

 

It was in Doresanipalya that butterflies entered forest policy and biodiversity conversations. Here, the ball was set rolling to declare the southern birdwing — a large butterfly with a distinctive yellow and red pattern (similar to Karnataka’s flag) — as the State butterfly. The park also hosts an annual butterfly festival, which has spawned a ‘moth festival’ this year.

Plans are afoot for similar parks elsewhere in the city. “This patch has become a model for developing urban landscapes in a way that attracts butterflies and other insects,” says Kunte.

The next step is to formally declare Doresanipalya a butterfly reserve, but this was rejected by the State government recently. Kunte is unfazed. “I’m optimistic because of the scientist-citizen-official collaboration we have going here. It may still happen some day.”

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 6:33:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/how-a-unwieldy-patch-of-green-turned-into-butterfly-haven-in-bengaluru/article25789922.ece

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