On the road to dwindling butterfly population


A bird’s eye view of Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park, which is covered by green netting. —Photos: FAIHAN GHANI, SAMUEL ONG and YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

IF KUALA Lumpur does not take immediate measures to conserve its butterfly population, it will most likely end up like Singapore which “lost” almost half of its butterflies.

“We will go down the same road if we do not take good mitigation measures (to conserve), ” said Associate Prof Dr Norela Sulaiman from the Biological and Biotechnology Department of the Faculty of Science and Technology, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

The entomologist said Malaysia’s butterfly population was declining and if conservation efforts were not done soon, it would lose more species.

Assoc Prof Norela added that the main reason for the decline was the loss of habitats due to overdevelopment.

A recent research published last year in the scientific journal Biological Conservation by experts in the field, stated that almost half of Singapore’s native butterfly species had disappeared over the past 160 years.

Citing Kuala Lumpur as an example, she said research carried out by her team in Bukit Nanas showed a decline in butterfly population.

“Butterflies are attracted to plants and flowers, particularly plants with nectar and caterpillar host plants, which are also declining due to development, ” Assoc Prof Norela told StarMetro.

“When you start seeing fewer butterflies, you know that their habitat is threatened.

“It is imperative that we preserve as much green lung as possible in Kuala Lumpur, from city parks to small forests where temperatures are low and areas are wet, with ponds and streams, where there is constant moving water. These are crucial to their habitat, ” she said.

Assoc Prof Norela said city councils such as Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) should not only ensure green lungs were protected, but they must grow more flowering plants that attract butterflies. “Singapore has managed to do this by planting a lot of flowering trees along the roadside and parks, ” she said, adding that they were like “magnets” to butterflies.

Senior forest entomologist of Research Centre, Sabah Forestry Department, Dr Arthur YC Chung, agreed with Assoc Prof Norela, saying that any land changes to the environment would impact the insect population, including butterflies.

“In general, the insect population is reducing globally, and the most severely impacted are the honey bees, ” Chung said, adding that papers on the topic had been written extensively between 2018 and 2020.

He added that parks with a diverse insect population should be promoted as a tourist attraction.

“In Sabah, people come from all over the world to enjoy and learn about our diverse flora and fauna.

“We promote responsible and sustainable nature tourism, ” he said, adding that children today needed to be exposed to such a life.

Treat Every Environment Special (Trees) technical adviser Dr Rosli Omar said insects, including butterflies and birds, were important to the ecosystem as they were pollinators of flowers and provide for the production of fruits as food for animals.

“They contribute by feeding on the fruits, at times far from the location where the fruits were taken, disperse the seeds and thus expand the range of the next generation of plants, ” he explained.

“About 75% of our food comes from plants pollinated by birds and insects and with overdevelopment threatening their habitats, birds and insects will disappear and new trees that depend on pollination will not grow, ” he added.

Rosli, who is also a member of the Malaysia Nature Society, said if people wanted to see more butterflies in the city without going to the parks in the area, they would have to venture further to places such as Kemensah near the Zoo Negara and Jalan Gombak towards the old road heading to Bentong.

Alternatively, they can see butterflies at Taman Botani Negara in Shah Alam, and the Shah Alam Community Forest.

Both Assoc Prof Norela and Rosli said that apart from loss of habitat through overdevelopment, the butterfly population plummeted due to the city’s fumigation and disinfectant exercise carried out to eradicate Covid-19, which can cause decline in population due to its effect on host plants that feed the larvae.

Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia (Ecomy) president and chief executive officer Andrew Sebastian said green lungs like urban forests and parks brought a host of benefits to a city.

“Deforestation causes a lot of harm to an ecosystem.

“Apart from killing wildlife, it releases stored carbon and contributes to global warming, ” said Sebastian, adding that studies had shown that urbanisation was also the cause of diseases like dengue and malaria.

“Neighbourhoods that are close to forests, even with thousands of mosquitoes breeding there, have fewer dengue cases because insects like dragonflies, butterflies and fireflies feed on mosquito eggs, ” he said.

“The cutting of forests and trees acts as an incubator for diseases borne by insects like mosquitoes, ” Sebastian elaborated, adding that it was not surprising that urban areas in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur had the highest number of dengue cases.

“Insects like dragonflies and fireflies act as predators to mosquitoes. If you cut down trees, you take away their habitats, leaving behind stagnant pools of water which are the ideal breeding ground for Aedes mosquitoes.

“That’s why there are many dengue cases related to construction sites, ” he added.

The Star had previously reported findings on a survey of 10 parks in Kuala Lumpur carried out by Universiti Malaya researchers that older and bigger parks as well as those with pockets of wild areas hosted more butterfly species.

These parks have more types of plants and species of butterflies.

The parks that were surveyed for butterflies were Taman Botani Perdana, Taman Rimba Kiara, Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, Taman Tasik Manjalara, Taman Metropolitan Kepong, Taman Tasik Permaisuri, Taman Bukit Jalil, Taman Pudu Ulu, Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir and Taman Alam Damai.

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