During one of my many meaningless browsing sessions through absolutely unconnected and random sites (as one is wont to do in the hostel), I stumbled upon a 2009 WWF report on the biodiversity in the IITB campus. It was a long, long report, with no photographs and lots of data and I soon got bored. But I gleaned something from it – there are over a hundred species of birds in the campus and about 85 species of butterflies. This was unbelievable, to say the least, for I did in no way remember seeing more than 20 kinds of birds I guess till then and had identified even less. So started my journey in looking for these elusive birds and photographing them. Butterflies were entirely not on my mind. I was absolutely sure I would never be able to photograph these tiny, flighty, delicate creatures who always seemed to be busy fluttering.
It was rather a surprise then that at the end of the photographic journey in search of birds on the campus, my folders had 45 species of butterflies tagged along. I wish I had taken the butterflies a little more seriously and actually gone after all 85 of them. Someone else will finish the list I hope. And definitely with a better camera than the SX40 HS that I used.
As long as I had looked at butterflies from afar, they had always seemed to be pretty little happy creatures without a care in the world fluttering over tufts of grass or brightly colored flowers. It is only when I started looking at them through the lens that I saw their bruises. So many had had injuries and were with torn, broken wings. As I followed them around, I saw how they drank nectar, how they coiled and uncoiled their proboscis (feeding tube), how they squirted a jet stream of water from their behind during mud puddling. I began to follow the times when they fluttered around, when they settled down on the leaves, when they sucked nectar and when they drew minerals from the mud (You can literally sit next to them during mud puddling, they won’t budge!).
But their habitat is fast shrinking. With increasing construction activities in the campus, their hidden nooks and corners are decreasing all at once. We have to make a conscious effort to keep our butterflies alive and thriving in the years to come. They are more than just eye candy. Along with bees, they are the prime pollinators of flowers. Extremely sensitive creatures that they are, the health of an ecosystem can be understood from its butterfly population. They are also an important member of the food chain. With the decline in their population not only will we see wildflowers go scarce, but also birds will decrease.
I sincerely hope that the present students of the campus start looking at these tiny beautiful creatures with more than just a passing glance and see them in all their brokenness and helplessness as well.
Only then will start a concerted effort towards saving them and giving them space they so totally deserve. For their sake and ours.
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