Peru is well known around the world for its biological diversity. The Peruvian Amazon rainforest hosts a range of diverse species from the Andean bears, to the Andean Cock-of-the-rock (an indigenous bird in the South American region), to a wide range of butterfly species. 3,700 butterfly species live in Peru to be exact, making the country rank third in the world for its diverse amount of butterfly species.
Butterflies play a very important role within an ecosystem. Like bees, they are pollinators of flowers, providing a source of food for other species. In spite of this, the Peruvian butterflies are facing extension. The numbers killed from illegal hunting has increased in the last ten years, especially in the Colibri Cloudforest, one of the communities where Rainforest Partnership works. Illegal hunting poses the most serious threat as poachers arrive in the communities during the time of butterflies’ reproduction to catch and then sell them on the black market to places like the United States and countries in Europe.
Dissected butterflies are in demand, as the wings are the most valued product. The butterflies are commonly sold as a decorative or handicraft item. This includes framed art in different and varied designs, as well as jewelry. Among the most requested butterflies is the butterfly Morpho callicore and the Morpho helena. Just one specimen of certain Morpho species can sometimes sell for up to US $500 in the US market. The forces behind these causes are both social and economic.
Our goal in Rainforest Partnership is to further expand the economic opportunities in this community by building a butterfly sanctuary in Peru to help integrate the dual goals of sustainable economic development and biodiversity conservation in this region at a time when the butterfly population is greatly affected by illegal poaching. The permitted harvesting and sale of butterflies will provide the community with an alternative income stream that is sustainable and legal. There are several museums and universities in Europe that are interested in buying these, both for research and consumer purposes.
So the next time, when you think about buying any decorative or handicraft item that contain a butterfly think about where it comes from. If there is an option to buy a certified, legally harvested product then do it! By choosing to not buy an illegally obtained butterfly decoration, you are contributing to butterflies not going extinct, because in the end humans will not be able to survive without these beautiful creatures.