When Tshetsholo Naro and his friend Sanjoy Sondhi had gone out looking for butterflies on a hot June morning, they didn’t have any idea that they were going to be a part of history. The duo sighted Tawny Emperor (Chitoria ulupi ulupi) and Comic Oakblue (Arhopala comica), two rare butterfly species, which was, in fact, the first sighting of the two species in India in 100 years.
The Rare Sighting
A photographer by profession, Naro is known as the ‘Butterfly Man’ for his unbridled passion for butterflies. Even after all these years, he gets excited when people ask about the discovery. ‘We sighted the two species at my native village Chizami in Phek district of south-eastern Nagaland. The last known record of these two species in India dated back to 1915. Generally, first time sightings of butterflies happen in Arunachal Pradesh. However, our discovery showed that even Nagaland can be a destination to spot butterflies.’ Sondhi is associated with the Titli Trust, while Naro is a part of the North East Network (NEN).
Quick Fact: Back in 1915, the butterflies were recorded by Lt Col H.C. Tytler. He spent many years collecting and reporting on the butterflies of the Naga Hills.
They wrote about their discovery in the ‘Journal of Threatened Taxa’ in an article titled ‘Butterflies (Lepidoptera) of Chizami, Phek District, Nagaland, India’. The article states that there were two records of Comic Oakblue by Naro from the NEN compound on April 1, 2013 and April 12, 2014. Naro has been identifying butterflies in the area since 2011.
They jointly recorded the butterflies during the three-year period (2011-14). Altogether 212 species were recorded during the survey, of which 34 species are legally protected under various schedules of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Apart from the rare sightings of Tawny Emperor and Comic Oakblue, there were numerous other species and sub-species that they spotted, about which few or no recent sightings had been recorded in the country. These include Assam Darter (Ochlodes siva siva), Purple Swift (Caltoris tulsi), Ruddy Pied Flat (Pseudocoladenia fatua), Khaki Silverline (Spindasis rukmini), Hedge Cupid (Bothrinia chennelli), Blue Duke (Euthalia durga splendens), and Green Duke (Euthalia sahadeva nadaka).
Naro says that Nagaland being close to Myanmar, and part of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot, there is a likelihood of new findings, if the areas are properly surveyed. ‘If we do proper research, then I am hoping to find new species.’ He has sighted more than 300 species of butterflies till date. When asked about how he identifies each species, he reveals, ‘There are good reference books on butterflies in India with lot of information available. Also, I look online to know more about them.’
He also shares that in Nagaland, very few people are interested about butterflies and he has been trying to raise awareness about these beautiful creatures. ‘Butterflies are a very important part of our ecosystem. So, I am trying to promote butterflies and the environment by creating awareness.’
And, not to forget, Nagaland is a State where hunting is still quite rampant. However, Naro, who is passionate about nature, shares that things are changing for the better with time. ‘People are realising the value of conservation. If nature is not there, even we won’t survive. Every species is important to maintain ecological balance, be it human beings or butterflies.’
Quick Fact: Naro wants to write a book one day where he will document all the butterfly species found in Nagaland, and also share the stories behind their discovery.
Butterflies and More
In 2010, as part of North East Network (NEN)’s natural resource management activity, a Hoolock Gibbon Eco Camp (HGEC) was started in 2010. The Hoolock Gibbon Eco Club (HGEC) is a children’s eco club consisting of 40 members from the villages of Chizami and Enhulumi, between the age group of 10–14 years. HGEC is focused on conservation education, conservation research and conservation action. As part of HGEC’s activities, Naro, Kewekhrozo Thopi, NEN and Sondhi, introduce the children to butterfly watching and identification.
‘We try to make them understand the importance of conservation. We have also encouraged them to maintain biodiversity registers and catalogue animals around them in a scientific manner,’ informs Naro. The club is now churning out a series of wildlife publications in the form of posters, booklets, journals and articles.
Having sighted about 300 species in Nagaland till date, he is confident that it is simply 20 to 30 percent of the total species found in Nagaland. ‘I am yet to travel across entire Nagaland. When I do that, I will surely find more species.’
His photographs can be seen on his Instagram handle and Facebook page called Tshetsholo Naro photography.
By Nabarun Guha
This feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast August 2019 issue