Innovator: Sammilan Shetty
Vocation: Butterfly conservationist
Location: Mangalore, Karnataka

For centuries, butterflies have charmed humans. The beautiful and varied colours of a butterfly are like a reflection of the beautiful nature that is around us. While children like to chase butterflies, poets like to write about their enamouring beauty. Their migration cycle is still a mystery for many researchers and scientists. For nature lovers, butterflies are the basis of life; butterflies are those natural beings that contribute immensely to the environment. Butterflies are grateful to nature, and probably it’s time that we, too, should be grateful for the existence of the colourful beings, and make efforts to protect them from becoming extinct.

Our latest ‘parinda’ is doing exactly that in a small village called Belvai on the outskirts of Mangalore in Karnataka. He has made the conservation of butterflies both, his responsibility and his passion.

“Do you know there are 18,000 species of butterflies and moths in the world? Do you know that 1,500 of these are found in India, and 340 of them are found on the Western Ghats alone?” Sammilan asks.

These butterflies are extremely crucial for our ecosystem. They are an integral part of the natural food system, they are the carriers of pollen, and their count is directly in relation to the ecosystem. The more butterflies around us, the better and stronger are ecosystem is.

Sammilan grew in the vicinity of deep, green jungles; his playground was the river banks. From a very young age, he was interested in the life of living organisms found in and around his house. Fishing in the nearby river, climbing trees in the jungle and playing with animals and insects were his hobbies. However, the special love for butterflies only grew in him in college when one of his professors asked him to do a research on the local species of butterflies. For this assignment, in his free time, Sammilan would often look for butterflies in his vicinity and read up about them.

However, after college, like most youngsters, Sammilan neither knew what he wanted to do in life nor did he know why he wanted to do whatever he thought he wanted to do. Anyhow, he decided to pursue a Master’s degree in hotel management and later found a job in Bengaluru. A few years later, he was offered a teaching job at a hotel management institute in Mangalore.

When he moved to Mangalore, Sammilan’s love for butterflies was rekindled. Once again, he began to read up about them in his free time.

The turning point in his life came when he came across a book by Isaac Kehimkar, which explained how people can attract butterflies found around their house and protect them. Inspired by this book, Sammilan started doing some experiments on his farm and laid the foundation of a Butterfly Park in 2011. Happy with the success of his experiments, he officially opened the gates of the SS Butterfly Park for the public in 2013.

The purpose of this park was to create such a space where local species of butterflies can live, breed and grow in a safe and natural environment. The purpose was also to encourage people to carry out research on butterflies, create awareness among the youth about their importance, and motivate youngsters to make efforts for their conservation and protection.

“We are now making a documentary on the lifecycle of butterflies so that we can create awareness about them,” Sammilan tells me.

“We are the reason that the number of butterflies around us are reducing. For our selfish gains, and in the name of modern development, we have destroyed forests and cut down trees in cities. We have taken away their habitats from them. Even in villages, where some greenery is still intact, we have begun to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, making the natural habitats of butterflies poisonous. Butterfly eggs are not able to flourish due to the excessive use of insecticides despite being laid in a ‘suitable environment’. Among the few that manage to free themselves from the egg shells, many die before the caterpillars can evolve into butterflies. With the common use of genetically modified seeds, the dangers for butterflies have increased even more now,” he adds.

However, the danger is not just of butterflies becoming extinct, but even our lives depend on the existence of butterflies. If there won’t be any butterflies, there won’t be pollination, and this will affect our natural food system and our lives.

Unfortunately, while the world frequently talks about the conservation of environment or animals, it only talks about the protection of big animals — like lions, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros — or a few birds. Bees, butterflies and other smaller insects are hardly spoken about or cared about. Even in schools, we were hardly told about the extent of their importance in our ecosystem. In most schools, butterflies and their protection is not even a topic of discussion. Therefore, it is important that we take a step towards their conservation on our own. If we all take baby steps in that directions, we can create a movement and help in the protection of butterflies.

It is because of this one man’s effort that, today, one can find more than 135 species of butterflies and many other species of insects in this park. Imagine what we can do if we all make an effort!

All one has to do is think, learn, understand and apply in our lives. We are all capable of conserving the environment, all we need is to take that one step forward and join hands. If we don’t do this now, we might never get a chance again.

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