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Zanzibar butterflies Isolated forest, support incomes

UNGUJA, Tanzania

As a part of a push to conserve the natural environment within the Zanzibar archipelago, a Tanzanian charity has teamed up with farmers to rear butterflies under a scheme striving to offer residents a financial stake to guard forests.

The Zanzibar Butterfly Center, which consists of a meshed tropical garden, is home to many species bred by locals.

Although the semi-autonomous island off the coast of Tanzania is understood for its rich history and cultural heritage, the bulk of residents sleep in poverty.

Residents routinely hamper trees to form charcoal to satisfy their growing energy needs, so increasing the carbon footprint while destroying fragile ecosystems.

But the community-based initiative is functioning to reverse things by luring former charcoal producers to rear butterflies and earn incomes to support their families.

Alfred George, the center’s assistant manager, said that through the project, many farmers are lifted from poverty and have realized the importance of protecting the environment.

“When we introduced the thought of rearing butterflies, most farmers were doubtful, but they now earn good incomes and their families are more happy,” George told.

Raising awareness

Although the initiative isn’t a panacea to Zanzibar’s widespread deforestation, residents said the scheme has helped to boost awareness and a way of ownership of the forest among locals.

“Many people have stopped lowering trees to supply charcoal, they’re more concerned about forest protection,” said George.

While many farming activities need the clearing of forests, which may trigger global climate change and therefore the loss of species, officials said butterfly farming requires unharmed forests which provides an economic incentive for conservation.

Nestled on the outskirts of Jozani Chwaka Bay park, the Zanzibar Butterfly Center contains an indoor tropical garden with hatching booths where tourists visit to catch a glimpse of the dazzling creatures.

With its fragile wings banded with dazzling blue patches, humerus is one of the foremost spectacular butterflies to look at.

But its beauty and rarity have brought the insect to the verge of extinction as local Zanzibaris prowl its last refuge near the Jozani forest.

However, through ongoing conservation efforts, the species is now protected.

Flying handkerchief

Launched in 2008, the middle is one among Africa’s largest butterfly exhibits, housing quite 50 species of native butterflies, including the flying handkerchief, a black and white African swallowtail.

The project has created opportunities for ladies who supplement their incomes.

The butterfly rearing process starts with farmers catching female butterflies and transferring them to an enclosure where they will lay eggs on host plants.

Farmers then collect eggs and once they hatch, caterpillars that emerge are placed on new plants, which must be regularly replaced to satisfy their voracious appetites.

The caterpillars still feed until they pupate and are able to be transported.

It is during this stage that farmers start reaping the fruits of their labor by selling the pupae to the middle that sells them for export or keep them until they hatch, to display for tourists.

The mostly women farmers earn about 65% of $1-$2.50 for every pupa, while the remainder meets running costs of the organization, said George.

He also noted that the quantity each farmer earns varies counting on what percentage pupae they sell to the middle and of what species.

“The payment considerably depends on individual efforts. Some farmers earn 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($260),” he said.

Tourists awe

As the midday sun blaze in Zanzibar, a gaggle of wide-eyed tourists huddled at the middle gaze in amazement at dozens of butterflies clinging in tightly packed masses to each branch and trunk of the tall eucalyptus.

The butterflies swirl through the air and carpet the sprawling tropical garden in their flaming myriad.

“I am happy to be here, butterflies bring me closer to nature,” said Laurie Petterson, a tourist from England.

The Jozani forest, perched on mangrove-filled bays of Chwaka and Uzi on Unguja Island, maybe a vast natural forest containing a good array of species, like Red colobus monkeys.

Despite the financial benefit, butterfly farmers who spoke to the Anadolu Agency are more concerned about environmental conservation than the income they receive.

“For me, money is nothing. we’d like to guard trees, it’s our life,” said Mariam Maulid Ali, a farmer in Zanzibar.

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