In 1985, the Kinabalu Birdwing was listed in Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World – The IUCN Red Data Book as Indeterminate – little was known about this rare butterfly endemic to Borneo, and no significant conservation work was being carried out to ensure its future.
In 2017, the Swallowtail & Birdwing Butterfly Trust gave a grant to Dr Stephen Sutton to carry out much-needed research into the species. The grant, which was matched by the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu, ignited a project which culminated, in October 2023, in the Kinabalu Birdwing being declared the state butterfly of Sabah – an incredible success for this species, which is now listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
The aim of the Kinabalu Birdwing Project was to carry out research to understand more about this threatened butterfly’s abundance, its distribution, and its foodplant, as well as to raise awareness amongst the local population, advise on community-led breeding programmes and help establish Troides andromache as an icon of Malaysia’s national heritage.
Dr Sutton and team, despite being hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, carried out a successful research project, providing vital information about the Kinabalu Birdwing’s numbers, distribution, and ecology. They also developed a network of local landowners and homestay owners to deliver community breeding programmes, encouraging them to help maintain populations of Troides andromache by planting host plants whilst benefiting from ecotourism.
The Swallowtail & Birdwing Butterfly Trust subsequently supported MSc student, Corné van der Linden, to continue community engagement work with this network. Corné is currently continuing his work there, studying the biogeography and genomics of birdwing butterflies for a PhD.
The designation of the Kinabalu Birdwing as the state butterfly of Sabah is a testament to the incredible work of Dr Sutton, his team, and local communities on the ground, and it is hoped it will help secure an ongoing commitment to protecting this beautiful but threatened species and Sabah’s biodiversity for the future.
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