The Butterfly Man
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Sun Mar 15 02:48:53 EST 1998
(Excerpts from People Magazine): Ten years ago, as a member of the
Crips, a Los Angeles street gang, Arthur Bonner sold crack, cracked
heads, and fired a shotgun at an approaching car. By 1991 he had
spent three years in juvenile detention and almost four more in prison -
for shooting a security guard in the eye. He says he now prays every
night for the people he wronged: "I'm not proud of none of the stuff I
Instead of running with his gang, Bonner, now 27, roams the rugged hills
of California's Palos Verdes peninsula, trying to make it habitable for
a rare species of butterfly found nowhere else on earth. The Palos
Verdes blue or Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis - flies only
from February through April. For the rest of the year, it metamorphoses
from fertilized egg to caterpillar to pupa. Individuals exist as
butterflies for only five days. To ensure that adult blues propagate,
most of the year clearing away brush and sowing the seeds of the only two
plants the blues will eat.
"One of the great things about Arthur is that he treats the butterflies
as equals," says Travis Longcore, an assistant manager of the
conversation project. "It's funny, but he understands how hard it is to be
Bonner says he owes his own metamorphosis to these fragile
lepidopterans. "They actually kept me from being extinct as much as I'm
saving them from being extinct," he says.
Released from jail at 22, he joined the Los Angeles Conservation Corps,
a work program aimed at giving at-risk youths a fresh start. Assigned
one day to clear brush behind the L.A. airport, Bonner says, "I saw a
sign that said, 'El Segundo Blue Butterfly Habitat.' I said, 'How can a
butterfly have a habitat when they can just fly over the gate?'"
Dr. Rudi Mattoni, a UCLA geography professor and the conservation
project's leader, assured him the Segundos would stay put as long as
they could thrive there. Bonner avidly read the books Mattoni gave him on
habitats and planting and was soon volunteering on weekends.
"He was just a great worker and a neat guy," says Mattoni, who in 1994
hired Bonner (at $26,000 a year) to help save the Palos Verdes blues.
Last year, the National Wildlife Federation gave both men an award for
outstanding work in conservation. Bonner now leads innercity kids on field
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