It was love at first sight. Vijay Barve remembers all too well, the first time he saw the pupa of a common crow butterfly. It was like a shiny gold pendant, glimmering on an oleander plant, he recalls. Before this, he had witnessed a butterfly lay eggs. And that was, probably, the moment that would direct the course of his life. The boy who had begun to observe the lifecycles of butterflies soon joined the ranks of bonafide butterfly lovers and made it his life’s mission to spread awareness about the ubiquitous, brightly winged insect.
It is hardly surprising that Vijay grew up to be a butterfly expert. Childhood comprised of weekend bird watching trips with parents who were avid nature lovers. Raised to admire and observe the natural world, Vijay’s nature education was quite thorough.
A master’s degree in computer science from Pune University, followed by a stint with a scientific and research organization FRLHT (Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Tradition), further cemented his closeness to nature. At FRLHT, Vijay was involved in the distribution mapping of medicinal plants. And with plants came butterflies as a particular butterfly makes its home only on a certain plant to lay eggs. Broadening his scope of interest, Vijay did a course in entomology from the Bombay Natural History Society, of which he is a life-long member.
In 2001, Vijay started the Butterfly India Yahoo group. This e-initiative gave a platform to butterfly lovers (it has 1,500 members at present) across the country to share pictures and information.
“We may have butterfly experts like Isaac Kehimkar, Krushnamegh Kunte, Peter Smetacek and many others in India, but it’s Vijay who brought us together,” says Kolkata-based butterfly specialist, Arjan Basu Roy. “If butterfly watching/photography has become a popular form of nature study in India, significant credit goes to him.” Vijay also launched DiversityIndia Yahoo group that focuses on small invertebrates.
Besides this, Vijay has also created and has been managing cyber communities of naturalists interested in different biodiversity such as SpiderIndia, DragonflyIndia, IndianMoths, AmphibianIndia, ReptileIndia, InsectIndia, InvertebrateIndia, WildflowerIndia, GernCareerIndia and GreenLifestyleIndia.
Things thus chugged along in the virtual world, until Vijay and his friends came up with the idea of butterfly meets. “It was sometime in 2004 when we had the first butterfly meet, one in Kerala at the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary and another in Mumbai,” says Vijay. “Meets such as these fulfill a useful purpose—of bringing like-minded people together to do some fieldwork which led to sharing and learning techniques of identification, photography,” he explains.
A job shift saw Vijay making his way to the University of Kansas, USA, where again he was able to coalesce his interest in biodiversity with his work. One experiment that he fondly remembers is the radio tagging of laboratory-raised monarch butterflies, a pioneering effort for sure. The monarch butterfly undertakes a spectacular migration, traversing thousands of kilometres from Canada to Mexico. “With our refined tracking system, we were able to track them for 10 miles,” he says.
Butterfly conservation, says Vijay, is essential. “The butterfly is an indicator species, it is sensitive to the environment. Greater numbers of butterflies in a region signify that the ecology is in good shape,” says Vijay, who lists the Blue Mormon butterfly as his favourite.
Vijay feels the best way to create interest in butterfly conservation is through the media and by constructing butterfly parks.