Documentation and education
The documentation of threats to wildlife is the first step in any effective conservation programme. Published in 1983, The lUCN Invertebrate Red Data Book included seven species of swallowtail as well as a number of other butterflies and drew attention to the fact that destruction of habitat is putting whole invertebrate communities at risk. In 1985 Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book went a step further and became the first worldwide assessment of the conservation needs of any invertebrate group as well as the first Red Data Book (RDB) to consider every species in a large worldwide taxon.
A number of national RDBs official or unofficial lists have documented the threats to many local Papilionidae. The majority of these lists are for European countries and consider only the very limited swallowtail fauna of that region. Although the Papilionidae is one of the best known of all insect groups, documentation of the conservation and biology of rare Papilionidae is sparse because of their mainly tropical distribution.
The protection of swallowtail and birdwing butterflies in wild and natural areas designated as national parks and reserves is an urgent priority. Two main needs are immediately evident:
Firstly, very few existing protected areas have been surveyed for invertebrate groups. The butterfly fauna provides an opportunity for extending the traditional species lists of birds and mammals to include a spectacular and popular insect group that is of interest to an increasing number of tourists and visitors to protected areas. Once the local species are known, opportunities exist for tropical countries to emulate the success of butterfly houses, but in more natural surroundings. Habitat enrichment to attract butterflies after the fashion of the Papua New Guinea and Kenya ranching programmes (see below) could do much to conserve swallowtails and birdwings at the same time as interpreting their value to the general public in a pleasantly assimilable fashion.
Secondly, there are certain countries that have important swallowtail faunas but very limited protected areas. Just five countries, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Brazil and Madagascar, between them contain over half of the world’s species of swallowtails. A further five countries, India, Mexico, Taiwan, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, brings the total to more than two thirds. All of these countries and many others could use their swallowtail faunas as an extra yardstick in judging the value of existing or proposed protected areas and overall environmental protection.
Certain of the world’s tropical forest areas are known to be under particularly severe threat of deforestation, many of them with valuable and endemic butterflies. For example, economic and population pressures have resulted in the loss of most of the Philippines’ lowland forests, which were heavily logged in the 1970s. There is evidence of wholesale abuse of reserve boundaries by logging companies and agriculturalists (e.g. see the review of Graphium sandawanum). Similarly, the population profile and extent of logging and agriculture in Indonesia and Eastern Malaysia have led to the loss of huge areas of forest cover in recent years, and protected areas are of ever-greater importance.
Other priority areas for the protection of swallowtails and birdwings include western China, the southern foothills of the Himalayas, the western forests of India and the forests of Sri Lanka. In the Caribbean, Jamaica’s system of reserves is inadequate and there is an opportunity for more effective measures in the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Brazil’s rainforests are still extensive despite increasing settlement in Pará State, Mato Grosso State and Rondonia State, (which borders Mato Grosso), however the Atlantic seaboard forests are poorly protected and include many highly endangered species. In Africa there is increasing attention being paid to the protection of the relict montane forests (especially in East Africa), and in the unique biotopes of Madagascar where more has been done to strengthen the national park system, nevertheless pressures on the habitats remain intense.
Where natural forests are already severely depleted, the value of plantation forestry as a conservation tool should not be underestimated. Plantations can provide timber for fuel, decoration and building, thus alleviating the pressures on the natural woodlands and forests that remain. They can also serve as buffer zones around natural forest refuges, as in the Nyungwe forest in south-west Rwanda (see review of Papilio leucotaenia). However, the aims of resource conservation are largely defeated when natural forest areas are cleared to make way for plantations. In practically every part of the tropics, there are adequate areas of already cleared and partially degraded land that could be focal points for afforestation and regeneration. International co-operation and funding is urgently needed in a global programme of conservation-orientated investment in plantation forestry.
Legislation and international conventions
International agreement on wildlife trade control is contained in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which controls and monitors the import and export of listed species. One hundred and eighty-two countries are party to CITES, which now protects ca. 35,800 species of plants and animals and 2,271 invertebrates, under three separate Appendices).
Appendix I is a list of species in which trade is subject to strict regulation and commercial trade is virtually prohibited. This includes Ornithoptera alexandrae, Papilio chikae and Papilio homerus.
Appendix II lists species in which trade is regulated for the purpose of monitoring. The butterflies listed on Appendix II are all the birdwings (Ornithoptera, Troides and Trogonoptera), Atrophaneura jophon, A. pandiyana, all Bhutanitis species, Papilio hospiton, all Teinopalpus species and the Apollo butterfly, Parnassius apollo, all in the family Papilionidae. These species may be commercially traded, but an export permit from the country of export is required before specimens may be removed from that country or imported into another state which is party to CITES.
Appendix III, are those species that are listed after one member country has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade in any of those species. A few butterflies are included in Appendix lll.
Many other threatened butterflies are traded heavily, and should be monitored. However, it must be recognized that there are serious difficulties in the implementation of controls on insects that are difficult to identify (when compared with many vertebrates) and are also very easily transportable.
The European Community Regulation 3626/82 implementing CITES includes an Annex of species listed on Appendix II of CITES that the European Community (EC) treats as though they were on Appendix I, (i.e. preventing virtually all trade in those species). The EC unexpectedly added the CITES Appendix II Papilionidae to this list, a move that was carried out without consultation with the CITES Secretariat or the lUCN/SSC Butterfly Specialist Group. This Regulation may severely jeopardize the Papua New Guinea birdwing ranching programme and may cause the demise of proposed ranching programmes in Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, all of which rely heavily on European markets. Butterfly ranching is seen as an important tool for their conservation. International efforts have been made to have the Papilionidae removed from Annex C Part I in order to bring the EC Regulation more into line with the requirements of CITES.
Other sources should be researched for the most recent details.
National legislation to protect local swallowtails is now quite commonplace. General restrictions on trade in Lepidoptera apply in Germany, Kenya, Madagascar, Mexico and Turkey. One or more species of swallowtail are protected or banned in trade under national legislation in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Greece, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and the U.S.A.
In recognition of the importance of conserving the habitats of threatened animals and plants, all northern European countries give greater emphasis to protected areas than to legislation for individual species. No amount of protective legislation will succeed if a species’ habitat is permitted to be destroyed. Nevertheless, legislation and international conventions do have the added advantage of drawing public attention to the plight particularly of rare or threatened species.
The U.S. Endangered Species Act (1973) is probably one of the most effective forms of wildlife protection in the world, but is not without its problems. Taxa listed are required to be thoroughly studied and a recovery plan drawn up. If so recommended, the Act allows for designation of complete protection for habitats critical to the survival of threatened taxa, as well as for protection of the taxa themselves. An example of the working of the Act is Schaus’ Swallowtail (see below), the case-history of which also demonstrates that problems still exist in the practical application of the Act.
Management and research
Research on the management of threatened insects began in the UK at the former Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE). The centres at Furzebrook and Monks Wood were particularly active in management and conservation of rare insects, one of which, the British Swallowtail (Papilio machaon britannicus), was the subject of long-term research and is now one of the world’s best-known papilionid taxa.
Papilio machaon is a very widespread Holarctic species that in Britain has become specialized on a single foodplant found only in the fens (marshes) of East Anglia, Milk Parsley (Peucedanum palustre). At one time this Swallowtail occurred throughout the East Anglian fens and possibly in marshes along the River Thames and River Lea, but extensive drainage in the early 19th century destroyed most suitable habitat. The butterfly survived at Wicken Fen until the early 1950s when that population became extinct, leaving the species confined to marshes around the Norfolk Broads, notably Hickling Broad. In 1975, 228 artificially reared adults were released at Wicken Fen in an attempt at reintroduction and it was estimated that over 2,000 individuals pupated that year, however by 1980 the population was once again extinct. The failure was attributed to a gradual lowering of water levels in Wicken Fen, which had a deleterious impact on the foodplants. A further attempt at reintroduction was made in 1993 but this also failed. SBBT is now campaigning for work to be undertaken to understand the reasons for these reintroduction failures. Concerns recently voiced at the Swallowtail Workshop in 2018 at Wheatfen highlighted concerns about salinization of the freshwater fens where the foodplant grows due to sea water encroachment.
In the U.S.A. Schaus’ Swallowtail (Papilio aristodemus Esper, 1794 ) is confined to the Florida Keys, with two sub-species found in the Bahamas, Hispaniola and Cuba. It is listed as extremely endangered with only a few hundred individuals found, gained federal protection in 1976 and was listed in 1984 under the Endangered Species Act. Schaus’ Swallowtail has been the subject of intensive biological research but despite these efforts the species is still declining, mainly as a result of habitat destruction. After the hurricane in 1992, there were only 73 records of individuals. They are now being captive reared and are on the increase, with releases taking place in 2014 in the Biscayne National Park. . It has been recognized that recovery programmes are expensive on resources and may be very risky. Long-term planning and adequate provision for protected areas are undoubtedly preferable. Nevertheless, as the threats to swallowtails and other butterflies become more intense, there will be a growing need for careful management studies, particularly in tropical regions. Research on the birdwing butterflies has demonstrated that an intimate knowledge of breeding biology and general ecology can pay dividends in terms of both conservation and rational exploitation. Further carefully directed research could be of great benefit to the conservation of the family as a whole.
In 1984 the Lepidoptera Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of lUCN was divided into a Butterfly Specialist Group and a Moth Specialist Group. The Butterfly Specialist Group was reformed in 2010 and was, until recently, chaired by Scott Black, Executive Director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. With their worldwide connections the Specialist Groups are potentially of great value in sharing conservation data and in advising on priorities for conservation attention. Attracting funds for conservation projects is more difficult for invertebrates than vertebrates, but the recommendations of the Group should be recognized as being of international priority and importance. Unfortunately, the Butterfly Specialist Group is not presently active and enquiries of IUCN as to what the future holds fail to elicit a response.
Ranching and farming of swallowtails
The term ‘farming’ in this context means that young are reared in captivity from parents that are also held in captivity. ‘Ranched’ swallowtails are captured as young stages of wild parentage and reared to the adult stage in captivity. Farming of swallowtails on a large scale is relatively rare but possible, particularly since the technique of hand-mating has been perfected for Papilio and is reportedly possible for Ornithoptera. The hybrids used in the study of the genetics of mimicry were farmed, as were the British Swallowtails that were released at Wicken Fen (Norfolk). Farming has also been used as a conservation measure for the Apollo, Parnassius apollo. Normally this species breeds one generation per year, over-wintering in the egg stage. By artificially rearing two generations per year, material for recolonization of depleted areas can be rapidly accumulated.
The best example of successful butterfly ranching was without question the development of the butterfly collection and trading industry in Papua New Guinea, which closed down in 2009 and was relocated to the rainforest habitat facility at the University of Technology in Lae. Previously at Bulolo, the Insect Farming and Trading Agency (I.F.T.A.) of the Department of Primary Industry sold high-quality specimens of butterflies (including birdwings), some wild collected and others ranched locally for the international market, returning three-quarters of all profits to those men and (mainly) women who were involved. Reportedly, a butterfly house is planned (September 2017). The collapse of I.F.T.A. at Bulolo and the subsequent move to Lae was disastrous for the smallholders involved. I.F.T.A. demonstrated ways to enrich the habitat of the large and showy species of butterflies by planting larval food plants and nectar plants around the gardens of the smallholders. They also provided basic equipment for rearing the pupae in cages, killing the adults and storing them safely for later setting and sale. Imperfect and unwanted specimens were returned to the wild to keep up the stock of individuals visiting the gardens. The main species ranched were Troides oblongomaculatus and Ornithoptera priamus, but recent research into foodplant requirements and conservation status has suggested that O. goliath, O. victoriae and O. chimaera could also be ranched and traded. The butterfly ranching project in Papua New Guinea demonstrated that trade and conservation can be of mutual benefit. Careful biological studies of other large and spectacular swallowtails, with a view to replacing the trade in wild-caught specimens with ranched specimens, should be encouraged. Although a thorough analysis of the potential for butterfly ranches around the world has never been made, there are probably many opportunities throughout tropical Africa, South America and Asia.
Transcribed, updated, adapted and abbreviated, with permission, from Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book by N.M. Collins & M.G. Morris. The full volume, with references, is available here.