Butterflies are back

Jaintia Hills is a threatened treasure trove of biodiversity, says Sannio C Siangshai


Oriental Branded Yeoman (left) and Khasi Dark Archduke

THE BRANDED Yeoman (Algia fasciata) butterfly, which was previously reported from Myanmar (Karen Hills southward), Indo-China (Thailand, Laos and Vietnam), SE Asia and Andaman Islands, has been sighted in the Jaintia Hills. Rajkamal Goswami, a PhD student from Bangalore working on primates of Meghalaya, has confirmed this.

     The only previous record in the region of this species from mainland India was based on an isolated sighting reported from Nagaon district of Assam. Krushnamegh Kunte, one of the topmost authorities on butterflies of India, positively identified the species from the photographs shot by Goswami and confirmed that these sightings extend the range of the species north-westward by approximately 1,000 km, over several mountain ranges.

     Goswami first recorded three individuals of this species on November 25 last year in Sonapyrdi village (Sunapur) and subsequently four and three individuals on the next two days at Malidor.

     This year while conducting his fieldwork, he observed at least five individuals of this species in Sonapyrdi between November 3 and 11. These repeated sightings of the species from Sonapyrdi and Malidor is significant as it is extremely rare elsewhere, provided that its sole sighting report exists outside the Narpuh Elaka of Jaintia Hills.

       This new record from Jaintia Hills also gains significance in the light of the fact that the Narpuh Elaka, one of the last ramparts of wilderness in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills, is critically threatened due to ever-increasing pressures of mining and State-sponsored industrialization, which has threatened not only the fragile natural forest ecosystems but also the quaint and intimate relationship of the indigenous Pnar tribes with these forests.

     Goswami, who has been trying to document multi-taxa species richness of the area which includes the Narpuh Reserve Forest as well as several community forests, feels that the Narpuh Elaka is a biodiversity haven and should be preserved and protected at any cost as any loss would be irreversible. These forests also house the critically endangered hoolock gibbons, which was listed as one of the 25 most threatened primate in 2009.

     Based on his documentation for the last one year, he finds this area also extremely rich in birds and butterflies.

     Goswami said that he has recorded more than 200 butterfly species that include the rare ones such as Khasi Dark Archduke, Banded Marquis, Red-Spot Sawtooth, Striped Green Palmer, Perak Lascar and Spotted Zebra. He added many more were yet to be recorded.

     He hopes that such scientific documentation of this extremely neglected region would not only help to leverage support to save these forests from the assault due to mining, but would also attract greater conservation attention at the state, country and global scale.