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Project to attract elusive large butterfly
Published on: Monday, March 25, 2019
By: Leonard Alaza
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KOTA KINABALU: A special project involving local communities in the Kiau Valley is being planned to attract an elusive large butterfly called the Kinabalu Birdwing (Troides andromache) which is only found in Borneo, mostly in the high altitudes of Mount Kinabalu.

The project will focus on creating food plant for the caterpillars. This will be done by several local homestay owners to attract the rare species, which is the size of a small dinner plate.

The Kinabalu Birdwing butterfly is so rare even scientists have little knowledge although there has been a lot of interest among butterfly enthusiasts around the world.

Under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the species, which is endemic to Borneo, is on the Red Data list as being ‘near threatened.’

Dr Stephen Sutton, one of the world’s most experienced entomologists, describes it as highly “mysterious”.

Realising the Kinabalu Birdwing’s significance to Sabah and its value to local tourism, Dr Sutton has started research so that not only the world will have a better understanding about species and its place in the entire ecosystem, but more importantly Sabahans whose very backyard is its traditional home.

Part of his research project is an attempt to attract the butterflies to a lower altitude using artificial flowers and breeding them. 

“We will be training Kiau homestay owners how to breed it so they will have the biggest butterfly in Borneo floating around. 

“These butterflies are not shy. They love to come down to flowers for the nectar. We are going to experiment with artificial flowers with nectar sources in them,” he said, adding that the same method has been used on other butterfly species in Singapore’s Changi international airport butterfly house, a technology borrowed from America for increasing the population of hummingbirds.

It is believed that, like many other species which have become endangered, the Kinabalu Birdwing butterfly has become rare due to threats to its natural habitat.

The butterfly’s natural habitat is at 1,200 to 2,000 metres above sea level.

According to Dr Sutton, they are also found on Mount Trus Madi and Gunung Alab as well as in two or three high altitude locations in Sarawak and Kalimantan.

However, there have not been any recent sightings in the said areas in the Borneo neighbours except at one locality 1,500 metres up on Mount Kinabalu.

“In the past six months, we’ve recorded about 400 sightings up on Mount Kinabalu as compared with only 24 at Gunung Alab during the same period. This fairly gives you an idea about their distribution,” he said.

Going by any standard, such number of sightings would classify any species under the insect category, rare.

Meanwhile, the Kinabalu Birdwing will be the focus during the Sabah Bird and Butterfly Festival on March 29-30 to be held at SK Kiau.

125 twelve-year-old school children from six schools around Mount Kinabalu and 15 teachers will be participating in various activities, all of which will be aimed at raising a better understanding and appreciation of the birds and butterflies around them.

Dr Sutton stressed that not only a better understanding of these species is useful to science, it is also important to the common people, especially communities who live close to their natural habitat.

“It will be good for community-based tourism up on the mountain because the Kinabalu Birdwing is so rare that many people around the world would want to come to Sabah to see it,” he said.

But more importantly than its tourism and economic value is the fact the rare and elusive butterfly is also a piece in the entire ecosystem where the native mountain communities live.

“Many people from around are eager to know more about the Kinabalu Birdwing in Sabah. Through the festival, we want our local people to learn to appreciate it too. And we will start with the young, the school children,” added Dr Sutton.



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