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    Live butterfly exhibition is relatively a very young industry compared to other very established ones such as zoos and bird aviaries. Though the first heated glass-house of live butterfly exhibit was set up in 1976 by Mr. David Lowe at Guernsey, Channel Island, it was not popularized until another tropical glass house of live butterfly called The London Butterfly House was opened for public in early 1980 by Mr. Clive Farrell who subsequently has set up a few other houses and also has extended his influence on several people, including me.

    In 1986 March, The Penang Butterfly Farm, presumably the 1st butterfly house in the Tropical Region, was opened to the public. At one time around late 1980’s, there were more than 50 butterfly houses in the U.K. and many others in Continental Europe. In 1988, The Butterfly World in Coconut Creek, Florida was opened, followed by Day Butterfly Centre at Callaway Gardens in Georgia, the same year. Since then, the industry bloomed and many big and moderate butterfly houses sprang up allover U.S.A. as well as in Canada.

    Today, the Butterfly Industry, once known as a tourism industry is slowly shifting it’s aim towards education with the intension of educating the public, both the old and the young where they will be exposed to the life cycle of butterflies and knowledge on other insects which effectively leads to motivation of awareness of particularly the very fragile aspect of nature. This is where the role of Penang Butterfly Farm comes in.


Penang Butterfly Farm              

 

The Penang Butterfly Farm is more than just a tourist attraction. It is set up as a 'living museum' to educate the public as well as a research centre to develop breeding methods. The Farm's founder David Goh explains the philosophy behind its operation.

Malay Peninsular has over 1000 recorded butterfly species, among the highest of any country in the world in relation to her small land mass. David Goh, the founder of the Penang Butterfly Farm was inspired and encouraged by Mr. Clive Farrell, owner of the Stratford Butterfly Farm at Stratford-on-Avon (birth-place of William Shakespeare) in England, to start a tropical butterfly farm in Malaysia.

Penang Butterfly Farm (PBF) was established in 1986 in Penang, Malaysia with 2 main objectives which are to function as a tourist destination and to serve as a centre for education, recreation and scientific research. The visitor to the Penang Butterfly Farm, finding himself surrounded by a myriad of fluttering butterflies within a seemingly natural setting, is likely to think himself in a sort of enchanted wilderness, bejeweled with colorful gems of creation. The best encounter at the Butterfly Farm is undoubtedly the free flying papilions in the enormous enclosure. The exhibition of selected insects and reptiles are also crowd drawers. The visitor, having traversed this complex of displays ends up in a souvenir shop selling butterfly-related paraphernalia.

Today, the Penang Butterfly Farm is the first tropical butterfly farm ever set up in the tropical world, with an average flying population of 4000 Malaysian butterflies of 120 different species, including the rare Indian Leafl (Kallima paralekta) and the endangered Yellow Bird wing (Troides helena). Probably the most famous of Malaysian butterflies is the Rajah Brooke's Bird wing of the Papilionidae family. First discovered in Borneo in 1855 by A. R. Wallace, it was named after the first British Rajah of Sarawak. The visitors can inspect the butterflies at close quarters as they flit around their favorite nectar plants as well as other tropical plants comprising of over 300 varieties.

The Penang Butterfly Farm is now a household name in Penang and a "must-see" for visitors since it opened in 1986. The farm located right at the end of the tourist hotel strip at Batu Ferringhi stands on a 0.8 hector site in Teluk Bahang, about 17km from George town. It has become one of the most popular stops on Penang's round island tour. The success of the Butterfly Farm as a tourist attraction has even inspired a series of similar commercial operations in Malacca, Cameron highlands and Singapore.

In spite of its general fame, the aspect of the Penang Butterfly Farm which means most to the people behind it has gained scant recognition within Malaysia. According to David Goh, "The locals only think of the Penang Butterfly Farm as a tourist attraction. In fact the farm is known and respected internationally as a breeding centre."

 

Breeding


Nature Heritage
Behind the miracle of the Butterfly Farm which is visible to visitors, is the hidden operation which consists of extensive breeding facilities.
 

The controversy that has surrounded butterfly collecting has also been reviewed at the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Like stamp collectors who usually concentrate on stamps of certain issue, country or historical period, butterfly collectors traditionally focus on a certain family of butterflies.

Among collectors, the most popular family of butterflies is the colourful Papilionidae, which includes the well-known groups of Swallowtails, Graphiums and Birdwings. The striking Swallowtails are so called because of their elongated hind wings.

Though it was previously thought that butterfly collecting endangered butterfly populations, it was often difficult to impose a set of rules for those who collect for research and those who collect for trading. David Goh views that amateur collectors, who often buy or exchange mounted specimens for their private collections, have traditionally contributed greatly to butterfly research as well as raised the level of appreciation of butterflies among general public.

A growing conviction among those involved with butterfly work is that collecting butterflies does not significantly threaten the butterfly population. According to comments given by Dr. Mark Collins at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, not even one butterfly species has become extinct through collecting.

Together with other major world experts on butterfly conservation, Dr. Collins believes that the overwhelming threat to butterfly species today comes from the destruction of their natural habitat. Therefore, the most important action that can be taken to conserve insect species is to persuade governments to preserve their natural habitats as forest reserves.

Some tropical countries highlight certain problems that arise from a ban collecting.. These countries have a law which prohibits people from collecting insects in the wild. This has discouraged research on the great range of butterfly species found in the wide range of natural habitat stretching (for example like Indonesia) from Sumatra to Irian Jaya. The prohibition apparently does not completely stop the illegal butterflies’ trade but only discourage collecting by amateurs and researchers. While many species of jungle insects remain undiscovered, they are steadily becoming extinct due to high rate of deforestation in a country. As a result of the ban, there are no studies or records of many disappearing species in such countries.

 

Collecting & Conservation


The overwhelming threat to butterfly species today comes from the destruction of their natural habitat. Therefore, the most important action that can be taken to conserve insect species is to persuade governments to preserve their natural habitat as forest reserves.
 

The controversy that has surrounded butterfly collecting has also been reviewed at the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Like stamp collectors who usually concentrate on stamps of certain issue, country or historical period, butterfly collectors traditionally focus on a certain family of butterflies.

Among collectors, the most popular family of butterflies is the colourful Papilionidae, which includes the well-known groups of Swallowtails, Graphiums and Birdwings. The striking Swallowtails are so called because of their elongated hind wings.

Though it was previously thought that butterfly collecting endangered butterfly populations, it was often difficult to impose a set of rules for those who collect for research and those who collect for trading. David Goh views that amateur collectors, who often buy or exchange mounted specimens for their private collections, have traditionally contributed greatly to butterfly research as well as raised the level of appreciation of butterflies among general public.

A growing conviction among those involved with butterfly work is that collecting butterflies does not significantly threaten the butterfly population. According to comments given by Dr. Mark Collins at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, not even one butterfly species has become extinct through collecting.

Together with other major world experts on butterfly conservation, Dr. Collins believes that the overwhelming threat to butterfly species today comes from the destruction of their natural habitat. Therefore, the most important action that can be taken to conserve insect species is to persuade governments to preserve their natural habitats as forest reserves.

Some tropical countries highlight certain problems that arise from a ban collecting.. These countries have a law which prohibits people from collecting insects in the wild. This has discouraged research on the great range of butterfly species found in the wide range of natural habitat stretching (for example like Indonesia) from Sumatra to Irian Jaya. The prohibition apparently does not completely stop the illegal butterflies’ trade but only discourage collecting by amateurs and researchers. While many species of jungle insects remain undiscovered, they are steadily becoming extinct due to high rate of deforestation in a country. As a result of the ban, there are no studies or records of many disappearing species in such countries.

 

Research


In order to facilitate the educational aspects of PBF, much research has been carried out. This work has the following key elements that underpin all the other work undertaken:
   
a) Several years prior to the opening of the Farm to the public, a lot of field work had been done to research into the host plants of species that had no record or had never been bred before. At the same time habitat study was also carried out to understand the macro-climatic conditions required for both the butterflies and their host plants.
   
b) Being ideally located next to the Forest Reserve, PBF has been able to take advantage of the nearby natural habitat and frequently release back a significant percentage of the captive-bred stock to the wild for several reasons.
 
i) To continuously sustain or increase the wild population which will back up the genetic problem that sometimes sets in in captive breeding.
   
ii) Some species do not mate in captive environment after having emerged from pupae for reasons that are still unknown. The only way is to release them back to the wild and recapture some of them for egg-laying purposes.
   
c) Restoration of butterfly habitats - Viable but disturbed habitats are repeatedly restored by planting or introducing more host plants to increase the wild population of butterflies. This is good for the breeders as they need occasional replenishment from the wild population to overcome:
   
i) Genetic problems
   
ii) Seasonal changes of species
   
d) As a centre for documentary work carried out by many T.V. stations and film-makers from all round the world. In the past, PBF has received countless projects of such nature and this has helped to contribute towards its research fund.
   
e) A centre for academic and post-graduate work used by local and foreign universities for their post-graduate students in the past, such as Dr. Jason Weintraub from Cornell University who spent more than a year at PBF.
   
f) Hosting of butterfly conferences and giving talks to schools and other institutions have been past contributions of PBF.
 

Preservation


The controversy that has surrounded butterfly collecting has also been reviewed at the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). Like stamp collectors who usually concentrate on stamps of certain issue, country or historical period, butterfly collectors traditionally focus on a certain family of butterflies. Among collectors, the most popular family of butterflies is the colorful Papilionidae, which includes the well-known groups of Swallowtails, Graphiums and Birdwings. The striking Swallowtails are so called because of their elongated hind wings.

Though it was previously thought that butterfly collecting endangered butterfly populations, it was often difficult to impose a set of rules for those who collect for research and those who collect for trading. David Goh views that amateur collectors, who often buy or exchange mounted specimens for their private collections, have traditionally contributed greatly to butterfly research as well as raised the level of appreciation of butterflies among general public.

A growing conviction among those involved with butterfly work is that collecting butterflies does not significantly threaten the butterfly population. According to comments given by Dr. Mark Collins at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, not even one butterfly species has become extinct through collecting. Together with other major world experts on butterfly conservation, Dr. Collins believes that the overwhelming threat to butterfly species today comes from the destruction of their natural habitat. Therefore, the most important action that can be taken to conserve insect species is to persuade governments to preserve their natural habitats as forest reserves.

Thus, Leppidio was created in 2003 to address the significance in nature education. By far the simplest approach would be to have insect preserve for identification purposes and to retain their natural beauty for the continuation of its appreciation.

 

Enhancement


In order to make PBF very attractive to get wider patronage, many side-attractions have been created. These include: a big fish pond (about 1/3 of the flight area) with 70 over very big fresh water fishes made up of more than 20 species; other individual displays of invertebrates, reptiles, snakes, ducks, turtles and tortoises, free-flying seed-feeding birds inside the main flight area; adjacent to the flight area are a Hide and Seek garden with camouflaged insects, a little zoo of many more big live invertebrates housed in individual cases; an Insect Museum and a Gift-shop.

More recently, Penang Butterfly Farm has expanded its operation to encompass an Education and Resource centre. Several key components have made this aspect of PBF’s work a success:

 
   
a) Comprehensive signage placing messages and information throughout the public facility to educate both the adults and the young visitors.
   
b) Science Projects such as “Be a Butterfly Breeder” and other outdoor educational programmes for children, taking full advantage of PBF’s location next to the Forest Reserve.
   
c) Adult Programmes - familiarize grown-ups with insects and dispel their misconceptions and fears in order to help to widen the scope of nature education. PBF has also provided training for 300 teachers in 3 different sessions.
   
d) Insect Museum with relevant content of high educational value rather than just being academic or scientific as well as the vial-collection in alcohol of all the different early stages of the butterfly species that we breed.
   
e)
New Audio Visual Theme Room with high resolution big screen video shows.
   
f) New Auditorium and Education Project Rooms for organized school groups with specific programmes according to different age-groups and school curriculum.
 

Recognition


With such increasing interest in insect research, it was an honour that our organization was given the privilege to host the 4th International Conference for Butterfly Exhibitors and Suppliers (ICBES) in 2000, the 2nd Asian Lepidoptera Conservation Symposium (ALCS) in 2008 the 9th ICBES in 2009. It is through years of uncompromising research and development that earn our organization the recognition of being the pioneer in its field. Within our organization we distribute our effort in participating as members in many wildlife related organization such as:

 
MAZPA (Malaysian Association of Zoological Parks & Aquaria)
IMNS (Malaysia Nature Society)
SEAZA (South East Asian Zoological Association)
SASI (Sonoran Anthropod Studies Institute), USA
IABES (International Association of Butterfly Exhibitors & Suppliers)
ICPS (International Carnivorous Plant Society)
ARNIZE (Asia Region Networking of International Zoo Educator)
 
It is through these associations and organizations that we receive and contribute information on research, breeding, education and development of the insect kingdom to be shared with the whole world.

Penang Butterfly Farm as one of a kind tourist related project is a thriving example of the private enterprise assisting a state industry (tourism) development. Because of Mr. David Goh’s contributions to this area of development, the farm has obtained these awards and accolades:
 

1988 Merit Award, Malaysian Tourism Gold Award (The Best Tourist Attraction) by Minister of Culture & Tourism Malaysia and Tourist Development Corporation Malaysia

1990 Merit Award, Malaysian Tourism Gold Award (The Best Tourist Attraction) by Minister of Culture, Art & Tourism Malaysia and Tourist Development Corporation of Malaysia

1991 Awarded the PATA Gold Award (Special Commendation) by The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA)

1996 Awarded the Best Tourist Attraction by Penang State Tourism Industry Committee

2008 Awarded as one of the Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Penang by Guang Ming Daily

2010 Voted as the #1 Most Popular Attraction in Penang by TripAdvisor.com

 

Since education in Nature Conservation through “Butterflies” has been widely promoted in the west and so far not much has been publicized in the Asian Region, the same should be given some importance especially when the economic and industrial development is currently the hottest in the world and this is inevitably creating much greater pressure on the imbalance between progress and nature conservation. In view of this, zoos and nature-related institutions should be more aware of this new trend and look to the west especially in terms of the introduction and implementation of some new regulations to simplify the legal movement and import-export procedure of live materials.

In this way, new concepts of butterfly houses and insect zoos will be popularized for the good of education, promotion of nature awareness and environmental sustainability and hopefully in the long run will help in the conservation of butterflies in the Asian Region.

 

The Future


In view of the tremendous popularity of live exhibition of tropical butterflies, most major zoos round the world have in recent years.
 

(i.e. in the final decade of 20th century) incorporated into their establishments such compact live exhibition of not only butterflies but also jungle insects by constructing temperature-controlled tropical glass houses for visitors to walk through.

Recent world-wide activity has led to wide-spread interest in researching into the life-history and breeding of not only butterflies, but also many other invertebrates such as beetles, stick and leaf insects, mantises, spiders, scorpions, millipedes and even aquatic insect particularly fire-flies. So much so, enthusiasts in the west have started to organize annual international conferences on butterflies and separately on other invertebrates. Penang Butterfly Farm is therefore an ideal centre to provide collaboration work in training more professional people in this field.

 
 
 
 
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