Conservationists on São Tomé, a tropical island that is home to a rich diversity of plants, birds and butterflies, have launched a project to help local farmers breed butterflies to boost incomes and incentivise the protection of the island’s forests.
Under a pilot project three farmers on the island, located around 200 kilometres off the coast of West Africa, will produce nearly 10,000 chrysalids per year for sale to collectors in Europe, said Julie Courret, BirdLife International's head of projects in the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe.
São Tomé alone is home to at least 116 species of butterfly. Some, like the rare Charaxes montieri, are found nowhere else on earth.
Twenty-two species of butterfly, including seven endemic species, have been selected for possible breeding. Their chrysalids will be exported to overseas collectors, who hold exhibitions of live insects in special enclosures.
Initially France will be the biggest market, said Courret.
The Sao Tomean farmers will release a portion of their captive-bred butterflies back into the wild to ensure the practice is sustainable.
"That's what is going to be important for us. We will produce and release even more than we collect to be sure we don't have a negative impact on the population," said Courret.
The forests of São Tomé and Príncipe are a biodiversity hotspot.
In a striking example of that, scientists this month announced a new species of owl – the Príncipe scops-owl – that lives within a tiny patch of Príncipe's southern evergreen forests.
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