Isac Kehimkar—an avid naturalist and keen nature photographer—is widely referred to as India’s ‘Butterfly Man’. Author of three books on the subject, he has worked closely with the likes of Dr Sálim Ali, Humayun Abdulali and JC Daniel for over three decades. He retired from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) on May 31.
Post-retirement, Isac has now taken up the task of popularising the concept of butterfly gardens in urban areas as a way to bring young people closer to nature.
His fourth book on Indian butterflies is likely to come out soon. But, he feels his new mission is far better in terms of creating awareness about the importance of the interesting little creatures and help people participate in their conservation.
Isaac is 60 but doesn’t look it. Born and brought up in Deonar area of Mumbai, a young Isaac used to catch crabs with local fishermen in the nearby creek. “That is how I got attracted to nature,” he says.
After doing his Master’s in Political Science and Psychology, he left a well-paying job to join BNHS as the library assistant to pursue his urge to be close to nature. He worked in almost every department of BNHS while handling various portfolios like PRO, programme head, general manager etc.
From Navi Mumbai, he takes his first tea of the day with the sunbirds that come to his balcony. Isaac has developed a small garden in his home that attracts butterflies. “Birds come first and the butterflies follow as the sun rises in the sky,” he smiles.
INaturewatch—the trust with which Isaac is working now—has developed around eight butterfly gardens in different cities like Bengaluru, Kanpur, Lucknow and Navi Mumbai. They’ve also developed a butterfly garden at a remote village in Jawhar taluka of Palghar district near Mumbai. Also, butterfly gardens are being developed in some of the schools of Navi Mumbai.
Commonly available plants like the curry leaves, lemon, passion flower, miracle leaf tree, catheranthus or Ixora can be planted at home to attract butterflies, he says.
“One of my friends lives on the 18th floor of a building. He tried this trick and was successful in attracting butterflies at his home,” he adds.
Butterflies are also very sensitive and choosy about their habitat or the trees that they select to lay their eggs on. They are not seen around exotic flowers. Instead, they are found around trees with small flowers in groups or clusters. These are the flowers that give what the butterflies want—the nectar.
Also, climate change is affecting these species. To give an example, the blue Mormon, the state butterfly of Maharashtra, is seen at the foothills of Matheran during monsoon when heavy rains lash the hill station.
They migrate to the plains because they can’t withstand the heavy rains. They migrate back to hills after four months.
Did you know?
1,500 Species of butterflies are found in India
350-450 Species in the Western Ghats
150 Species in Mumbai alone
57 Species of butterflies are in the UK
Bannerghatta Butterfly Park, Bengaluru: Has 48 species
Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden, Thane: Houses almost 70 species
Butterfly Park, Shimla: The state has 300 species, of which many can be found here
Butterfly Conservatory, Ponda: It has around 133 species