Killing butterflies and habitat destruction

Neil Jones Neil at
Wed Sep 23 17:47:37 EDT 1998

I have been following yet again the debate on killing butterflies.
This is a regular item and I have compiled a rather makeshift FAQ
on my web site at
It is not linked to my main page. At some point I will sort out the
problems with it and add some more recent postings but my priorities
are at present in other areas.

Before I present this argument I would like to state once again
that I do not wish to see collecting banned nor do I believe that
lepidoptera should never be killed.

It is common ground in the debate that habitat destruction is the biggest
problem facing lepidoptera. The real aim of those who seek to promote
lepidoptera conservation should be to educate the general public about these
problems. The processes involve generating social change so that lepidoptera
are seen as proper animals worthy of conservation. It is only by this
process that habitats will be conserved. It is a difficult process because,
unfortunately, the general population is not well educated in scientific 

This general population includes our politicians whose ignorance is often
quite astounding. I have collected a few amusing anecdotes from my local
area which will help to make the point. On one occasion a local politician
was involved in a discussion on pollution and said "What's a nanogram?
I've heard of a kissogram". Another time during a discussion on the construction
of a urinal a politician said "It is long way out of town. Shouldn't we
have an arsenal as well." (A kissogram for anyone unfamiliar with the term,
is a woman paid to turn up as a suprise at a party and kiss/ undress
in front of etc. an unsuspecting victim. AKA Strippergram)

To educate these people is difficult. The message must not be too technical.
The best that can be achieved is to get across the idea is that butterflies
are significant creatures that must be taken care of.
This must be achieved. I am reminded of a very poigniant visit I made
to a little piece of plain grass playing field at Hesse Park in Los Angeles.
There in a heinous act of vandalism the local politicians nearly sent the
Palosverdes Blue into oblivion by destroying its habitat. (See my "rogues"
gallery. )

What has this to do with killing butterflies for collections?

If we are to achieve the conservation of _any_ species it is necessary to
convince the people of the area where it occurs to look after it.
You cannot do this if you also argue that it is permissable to kill it for
fun. This is not the argument of a animal rights activist but of a
conservationist experienced in the sharp end of conserving lepidoptera.
This does not of course mean banning collecting. 

I am afraid some collectors dislike me saying this and I have even been
flamed for announcing that a species has been put on the protected list
because this stopped the individual concerned from collecting it.

I am concerned also that many collectors posting here have a very
anti-government stance. I do not have a high opinion of government either.
This should be apparent from my comments on politicians above. However
if we are to achieve proper conservation of lepidoptera properly
constructed legislation is necessary.

There is one other point that I would make and that is about accidental
road kills being more significant. Firstly these are random events that
are by their nature likely to have a far greater impact on common species
that those that are endangered, whereas unscrupulous collectors might 
deliberately target a rare species.
Secondly it is an accidental consequence of another activity.
If you were to argue from a moralistic point of view, that it would be wrong
to kill lepidoptera, it is obvious that no one could be construed as being
guilty of an act which was conducted without intent. 
This principle is widely implemented in legal systems. The idea of "mens
rea" the guilty mind is a cornerstone of the legal system here and I am sure
this applies in many countries.

Neil Jones- Neil at
"At some point I had to stand up and be counted. Who speaks for the
butterflies?" Andrew Lees - The quotation on his memorial at Crymlyn Bog
National Nature Reserve

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