Chair of Forest Zoology and Entomology, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg i.Br. Chair of Forest Zoology and Entomology
Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg i.Br.

Chair of Forest Zoology and Entomology
Freiburg i.Br.

Butterfly Industry

As a member of the International Association of Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers (IABES) Michael Boppré cooperates with commercial butterfly breeders, dealers and exhibitors.

Boppré M, Vane-Wright RI (2011) The butterfly house industry: conservation risks and educa­tion opportunities. Conservation and Society 10: 285–303 FREE PDF

This paper addresses the mass supply and use of butterfliesfor live exhibits, discusses the risks to biodiversity which this creates, and the educational opportunities it presents. Over the past 30 years a new type of insect zoo has become popular worldwide: the butterfly house. This has given rise to the global Butterfly House Industry (BHI) based on the mass production of butterfly pupae as a cash crop. Production is largely carried out by privately-owned butterfly farms in tropical countries, notably Central America and Southeast Asia. Most pupae are exported to North America and Europe, although the number of butterfly houses in tropical countries is growing. The BHI is described with respect to its stakeholders, their diverse interests, and its extent. It is estimated that the global turnover of the BHI is in the order of USD 100 million. From a conservation perspective, there is a tension between risks and benefits. The risks to biodiversity are primarily unsustainable production, potential bastardisation of local faunas and floras, and genetic mixing within and even between butterfly species. This paper discusses general ways of managing these risks. Ethical concerns range from fair trade issues to animal husbandry and the use of wildlife for entertainment. For the risks to biodiversity and unresolved ethical issues to be tolerable, the BHI needs to make a significant contribution to conservation, primarily through effective education about butterfly biology as a means to raise public awareness of basic ecological processes, and conservation and environmental issues. It should also engage with local conservation initiatives. Currently the BHI’s great potential for public good in these respects is rarely realised. The paper concludes by looking at the special nature of the BHI, and its need for effective self-regulation if it is to continue to escape from public scrutiny and the introduction of restrictive regulations. The BHI needs to engage in active cooperation between its various stakeholders regarding a raft of critical issues if it is to survive and fulfil a beneficial role in society. The BHI also needs to forge active partnerships with conservation NGOs, educationalists, and scientists—communities that also need to recognise their own responsibilities towards the industry. We also discuss the need for an effective umbrella organisation for the BHI, as well as a “Code for trading and exhibiting live butterflies”.

Michael Boppré & R.I. Vane-Wright (2008) The Butterfly Industry: contributing more to education, research and conservation. Presentation at the 2nd Asian Lepidoptera Conservation Symposium 2008.

Effects of the huge expansion of commercial butterfly breeding and exhibiting in the recent past are critically reviewed, in an attempt to assist the industry and promote its contribution to conservation through education and research. The industry is well placed to have an impact on environmental awareness—and this appears to be happening in many developed and even some developing countries, where butterfly houses and gardens bring the wonder of nature to many people who otherwise rarely come into contact with wildlife. But far more could be done with respect to fundamental ecological education ("ecoliteracy"), based on live butterfly exhibits. With respect to research, much new knowledge has been gathered on butterfly biology by breeders as well as by exhibitors. However, there is too little communication with the scientific community, and many of the discoveries remain unreported (or are even kept secret), and so do not contribute to research—research that is not just important for the academic community, but often vital for conservation. Finally, it must also be recognised that direct threats to biodiversity and conservation are inherent to the increasing regional and global trade in butterfly livestock. The current network of trading butterfly pupae (sometimes with parasitoids) carries the very real threat of the introduction of alien species (potentially even pests) that can cause undesirable genetic pollution of populations, subspecies, or even entire species. Pro-active self-regulation by the industry should ensure that it will not be seriously restricted by legislation—but if self-regulation is not effectively embraced, then the industry may not be sustainable in the face of increasingly stringent legal demands. In conclusion, the "butterfly industry" is good and important for environmental awareness—but its ability to promote the conservation of Lepidoptera through education and research could and should be very greatly extended. The costs involved would surely be repaid by good-will stemming from increased interest and social relevance, and through better and more sustainable relationships with governmental and non-governmental bodies controlling the use and exploitation of wildlife.