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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.