Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kaiser-i-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis) in Thailand

Home to spectacular springs and rare species of wildlife, Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park makes a great cool season getaway.

The forested mountain terrain, which actually connects to Burma, is full of life. Here one can find not only hill tribes, but also wildlife such as barking deer and black bears.

"One of the rarest creatures you can find here is the Kaiser," said Jongrak Saelou, a local off-road driver and also our guide. The Kaiser, or Kaiser-i-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis), is a rare species of swallowtail butterfly native to India. The common name literally means 'Emperor of India' and it is much sought-after by butterfly collectors for its beauty and rarity.

"The value of the butterfly is as high as the price of a motorcycle," said a ranger, noting that the high price had led to several hill tribe people taking great risks to capture them.

"Five or six years ago, a Mussur man was blown-up on the mountain while searching for the butterfly. It was because he accidently stepped on a hidden bomb planted by the troops of Khun Sa [the late Shan opium warlord]," he said, noting that the mountain was once a battlefield for those troops and Thai soldiers. Nowadays, there are no large trees left on the mountain top, only tall weeds and large bunkers.

"It is also our duty to protect the butterfly," he noted, adding that the tragedy of the Mussur man wasn't enough to prevent other hill tribe people from trying to catch this protected species.

The palm-sized butterfly calls the top of Doi Pha Hom Phok home, and we encountered a few examples of the beautiful creatures while trekking across the peak.

The Kaiser is quite fast and never stays still. It is a strong flyer that can cruise at tree-top height and even through rain. It can grow from 3.5 to five inches and samples are available to study at the information centre.

Apart from the butterfly, visitors can also enjoy bird watching. It is estimated that there are around 270 bird species to be found in the park, including the Purple Cochoa (Cochoa purpurea), which can be found only in Thailand's northern forests.

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