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Massive decline in butterflies in Himalayas

Last updated: 04 June, 2010
Shimla, June 4 (IANS) 11:00 IST

The lofty western Himalayas are being slowly robbed of their butterflies, with at least 50 percent of the species showing a massive decline in less than a decade due to human interference.

Studies conducted by the high altitude zoology field station of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) based in Solan town of Himachal Pradesh have recorded a drastic fall in butterfly numbers in the western Himalayas, famous for their biodiversity.

"The population of 50 percent of the 288 species recorded in the western Himalayas, comprising areas of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, have declined more than half in just 10 years," Avtar Kaur Sidhu, a scientist with the field station, told IANS.
"We noticed a large number of dead butterflies on the Khardung La (the world's highest motorable road in Ladakh) during one of our visits. It was primarily due to a rise in vehicular traffic by the tourists," she said.

"We also found a massive decline in the population of the common snow apollo in Ladakh. It's a high-altitude butterfly and its decline is due to its rampant smuggling and lack of conservation measures by the government," Sidhu said, adding, "The same is the fate of the highbrown silver species".

Lofty bath, a medium-sized white butterfly with black streaks, once common in the alpine regions, is now spotted only in some pockets of Ladakh.Other species like large green underwing, the dusky green underwing, common meadow blue, white blue linen and violet meadow blue, which are typical high-altitude butterflies also need to be conserved, she said.

Sidhu attributes the decline to human interference - vehicular traffic, habitat loss, pollution, deforestation, spraying of pesticides and smuggling."During the faunal survey of the Ladakh region (of Jammu and Kashmir), we recorded just 25 species of butterflies, which is almost half the actual recorded species," the entomologist said.

"Such a decline is quite alarming and will affect the survival of other fauna," she said.
In Pangi Valley of Chamba district, only 27 species of butterflies have been recorded. In Churdhar ranges in Sirmaur district, 39 species have been recorded. In both the places, the survey was conducted from 2007 to 2010 under a fauna biodiversity project of the Himalayas.

Said V.K. Walia, an entomologist at the Department of Zoology, Punjab University, Chandigarh: "There is a need to improve their number by setting up a butterfly park. It will not only improve the number of butterflies but also serve as a laboratory for studying lepidoptera (an order of insect that includes butterflies and moths) and its conservation."
Of the 1,439 species of butterflies that have been reported in India, 300 have been recorded by the ZSI in Himachal Pradesh alone in its report "Fauna of Western Himalayas".The ZSI has recorded 14 species of butterflies in the Pin Valley National Park in the cold desert of Lahaul and Spiti district.

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