Where have all the butterflies gone?
What would you tell a six year school kid who wants to go to the zoo to see a butterfly?
Living in an urban area, a decade ago, I found many butterflies regularly in my locality. Now sighting a butterfly in my locality is rare. What happened? Where have all the butterflies gone?
“To their homes”, I reply to every kid who is saddened by the absence of butterflies here. Butterfly population has dwindled over the years. A lot can be attributed to the loss of greenery in butterfly attractants in my area. Butterfly bush, a butterfly attractant and common sight on roadsides across my city is no longer to be seen. Imagine a sky full of colourful butterflies. How breathtakingly beautiful! How joy-giving! How liberating! Whether it is the butterflies’ scene in the movies or in reality, butterflies have always flabbergasted us. Every time I say B for the Butterfly and the kids repeat, I miss the butterfly. Interestingly, some kids have started throwing butterfly kisses to the sky believing it would fetch them butterflies. Some kids even ask me “How to grow butterflies?”
The act or the attempt to act to protect eggs and raise caterpillars till they become butterflies which can then roam the open skies can be an offence under the penal laws of India, if done ignoring the necessities under The Wildlife Protection Act. Strangely however the law does not forbid the manufacture and sale of insecticides that can be used in kitchen gardens and home lawns against insects including Lepidoptera which includes caterpillars. So you may not raise the caterpillar but if nature gives you one, you can kill it as a pest. Hence, it is time we realize that to grow the butterfly, we cannot kill the caterpillar.
On October 2nd, the world celebrated the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as The International Day of Non-violence.
Mahatma Gandhi believed that Non-violence is the highest accommodative consciousness and in this context remarked that the greatness of a nation can be judged in the way it treats its animals. In many Indian villages people have been living in harmony with creatures both big and small. The thatched straw huts in many Indian villages have been accommodating snails as much as the corners of the brick and mortar rooms in these villages have been accommodating spiders. Even today in these villages, grandmas softly dissuade any person from harming these creatures by saying “Live and let live”. Living in harmony with nature demands compassion for even the tiniest creatures on earth. While private defense can be a ground to inflict harm, can non-usefulness of any creature to human beings justify inflicting death on it? Section 2 clause h of The Insecticides Rules, 1971 of India states that the term “Pests” means any insects, rodents, fungi, weeds and other forms of plant or animal life not useful to human beings. Changing this section can help prevent cosmetic use of insecticides wherever done in India. But more than that understanding of eco-centred reasoning anchored in compassion is the key to prevent killing of these life-forms for ‘non-usefulness’. Ask yourself: Should you kill the spider on the wall just because it prevents the expression of beauty of your room? Could you just not relocate it? Is generating a heart of compassion not worthier than the laziness that makes you not relocate but kill a life? Because you find the cluster of caterpillars on the tree ugly, does that make it a reason to kill it? Or could the compassionate heart have found alternatives? In the cyberspace we can see many insecticides on sale on many legitimate ecommerce websites which are available for use in homes and targeted to kill Lepidoptera including caterpillars, insecticides to kill lizards, insecticides to kill snails for as low as $2 and insecticides to kill many other life forms that are not useful to human beings. Only amending a law need not amend our behaviour. Hence, it is our compassion that can stop us from killing that spider in the privacy of our room. Can we develop that understanding to, of our own accord, abolish death penalty on insects and other life-forms? Can we prevent the cosmetic use of insecticides? Can we as a world develop compassion to not kill life forms recklessly?
As far as the dwindling butterfly population in urban spaces such as mine is concerned, we hope that governments around the globe allow and provide security for “Free By-Fy Zones”, that are, Free Butterfly Fly Zones in urban spaces where butterfly larval plants plantation drives can be launched and caterpillars can safely blossom into butterflies. Indian nature lovers are also looking forward to having a national butterfly someday just like the Indian state Maharastra now has one for itself.
Cosmetic use of pesticides must be prevented not only because it is harmful to human beings and their valued pets but also because mindfulness of harmony in nature demands that one must not kill or use disproportionate force on any creature howsoever big or small, except in private defense. Let us reconcile the philosophical ideas behind the right to private defense, wildlife protection, prevention of cruelty to animals, insecticides laws and eco-centrism, wherever in the world we are such that we get a win-win between human beings and other creatures.