Cambodian hearts aflutter over struggling butterflies

April 24, 2015
A butterfly on a flower in the garden of Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre on the outskirts of Siem Reap province
A butterfly on a flower in the garden of Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre on the outskirts of Siem Reap province

There was a time when Khorn Savai avoided caterpillars, convinced they would make her ill. Now she actively seeks them out.

Khorn is one of a number of locals trained to breed butterflies by Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre, the largest sanctuary of its kind in Southeast Asia.

In the garden surrounding her wooden stilt house on the outskirts of Siem Reap, her keen eyes know exactly where to spot the tiny eggs that will become , before transforming into one of Cambodia's many stunning, but struggling, butterfly species.

"Because I had no work, I decided to do this. Now I am used to it, I'm not afraid of caterpillars any more," she tells AFP.

Those who step inside the sanctuary are greeted by a dizzying array of colours, as dozens of vibrant butterfly species flutter through the air or nestle on verdant foliage.

But butterflies outside the sanctuary are not so lucky.

Rampant illegal logging and timber smuggling have devastated Cambodia's forests, dealing a blow to many wildlife species—including butterflies.

In its haste to develop the impoverished nation, the government has been criticised for allowing well-connected firms to clear hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest land—including in protected zones—for everything from rubber and sugar cane plantations to hydropower dams.

A caterpillar can be seen in the garden of Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre on the outskirts of Siem Reap province
A caterpillar can be seen in the garden of Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre on the outskirts of Siem Reap province

The WWF estimates that Cambodia has lost around a quarter of its forests since 1973.

"All around the world they have the same problem— are not increasing, they are decreasing," Lux Phem, Banteay Srea's manager, told AFP.

In a bid to protect some of the country's most endangered species the sanctuary enlisted the help of local villagers, who are provided with a breeding cage and taught how to recognise some of the dozens of native species.

In peak season, villagers like Khorn can earn up to $150 a month.

"I love this job, I am happy because it is not hard work," she enthused, before adding: "If we don't breed them, there won't be any because of the deforestation."

Explore further: Butterflies deceive ants using chemical strategies

Related Stories

Butterflies deceive ants using chemical strategies

April 8, 2015

Oakblue butterflies may use a variety of chemical strategies to deceive ants and avoid their attack, according to a study published April 8, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Yoko Inui from Osaka Kyoiku University, ...

Monarch butterflies rebound in Mexico, numbers still low

January 27, 2015

The number of Monarch butterflies that reached wintering grounds in Mexico has rebounded 69 percent from last year's lowest-on-record levels, but their numbers remain very low, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Food poisoning sickens hundreds of Cambodian pupils

March 28, 2015

More than 600 Cambodian villagers, mostly school children, fell ill after eating contaminated food provided to a school during an anti-child labour event, health officials said Saturday.

Butterflies illustrate the effects of environmental change

July 24, 2014

Changes in butterfly fauna are yielding surprising insights into our changing environment. The effects of nitrogen from fertilizer or precipitation on the food plants and microclimate of caterpillars have a significant impact ...

Recommended for you

Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon

January 19, 2019

Over the years, scientists have identified dams, pollution and vessel noise as causes of the troubling decline of the Pacific Northwest's resident killer whales. Now, they may have found a new and more surprising culprit: ...

Researchers come face to face with huge great white shark

January 18, 2019

Two shark researchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are using their encounter as an opportunity to push for legislation that would protect sharks in Hawaii.

Why do Hydra end up with just a single head?

January 18, 2019

Often considered immortal, the freshwater Hydra can regenerate any part of its body, a trait discovered by the Geneva naturalist Abraham Trembley nearly 300 years ago. Any fragment of its body containing a few thousands cells ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.