The butterflies know they have a home here, said 42-year-old Bahadur Rana, pointing to a set of plants he has been carefully tending to for nearly two years.
The plants are ‘hosts’ for butterflies and Rana is the caretaker of a home in Faridabad, the front yard of which has been turned into a ‘butterfly habitat’ as part of the Bombay Natural History Society’s (BNHS) project to create such habitats to develop a butterfly corridor in Delhi-NCR. The home in Faridabad, a former waste dump in a housing society, and two dog shelters are among 67 such habitats that have been created since 2018.
Rana doesn’t know the names of the butterflies but likes to observe them. “Keeping the saplings alive was a hard job for a year. They had to be watered regularly,” he said about the vajradanti plants in the yard. “Then the butterflies started arriving to play around the flowers,” Rana said. His sons, both studying, have also begun to take an interest in the plants and butterflies. “The butterflies are out in the morning and sometimes later in the evening. My father likes to watch them,” said Vishnu, Rana’s elder son.
Ashraf Patel, whose family owns the house where the habitat lies, says that she would like to eventually open up the patch for children in the neighbourhood as a local learning space.
Sohail Madan, who heads the Conservation Education Centre of the BNHS at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, said, “In terms of ecological impact, what we are trying to achieve is local migration of butterflies. There are forests in the north of Delhi, the Yamuna in the East, the Asola Bhatti sanctuary in the South and the Ridge in the West — these are discreet forests with no connection between them. If we make forests into islands, the butterflies or any other species will be in jeopardy because we need genetic variation. To have that diversity, we need butterflies to travel across Delhi and not be kept in ecological islands.”
The park at Mandakini Enclave, for instance, could help connect Jahanpanah city forest and the Asola Bhatti sanctuary, Madan explained. “By our observations, some butterflies like Common Emigrants and Pea Blues are long-distance migratory butterflies which will be using these corridors. When our data set grows, we’ll be able to add more species to this list,” he said.
In South Delhi’s Mandakini Enclave, 75-year-old Anil Kapur is at the local butterfly park nearly every day, watching, identifying, counting and photographing butterflies. “It used to be a space where garbage and muck were dumped. We cleared it up and planted saplings in 2019,” Kapur said. He can reel off names of many butterflies that frolic around the plants — the Common Mormon, the Common Jay, the Castor butterfly, and the Common Grass Yellow. “We have counted around 20 species here,” he said. The local residents’ association takes care of the butterfly park. No pesticides or insecticides are sprayed on plants, Kapur said. There are trees and smaller shrubs in the one-acre plot that houses ‘host’ plants such as milkweed, lantana, castor, and lemon.
Sambhava Jain, a 23-year-old student of biotechnology, helped identify two butterfly habitats with the BNHS team. Both are animal shelters, one in Greater Noida and the other in Noida Sector 125. “Most people think butterflies come out of nowhere. Since the patches of forest in Delhi are fragmented by the human population, the butterfly corridor is significant,” Jain said.