Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winged wonders

BRIGHTLY coloured butterflies fluttering in a garden is a rare attraction. Bird lovers seldom get to see the winged wonders together, as it is difficult to create and maintain the various types of habitats for them.

However, the state forest department has made this possible by setting up a butterfly garden at Thenmala, 74km from the state capital of Trivandrum. The garden set up by the Entomology Department of Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) under the Thenmala ecotourism initiative will be thrown open to the visitors by the end of this month.

The garden has been set up on 2 hectares of forest land behind the musical fountain in the cultural zone by preserving the patch of the forest intact. In addition to seeing the butterflies, the visitors will be able to see Hornbills and other birds in the garden.

Thenmala is the first planned ecotourism destination in the country. The entrance to the garden is through a gate modeled on the lines of a giant Ficus tree. It will lead to the Facilitation Centre and Information Centre constructed in Kerala style.

The information centre will have a souvenir shop, office and a display room. There is a 500-metre-long nature trail on either side of which appropriate butterfly host plants have been planted.

An artificial stream with pebbles and water plants has been laid to lend a natural touch. The host plants attract and sustain butterflies. The Crotalaria plants have already attracted hundreds of Dark Blue Tiger butterflies.

Spotting the butterflies in the open environment will be a major attraction at the park. Around 40 species have been spotted in the garden at Thenmala. The park will initially have 30 to 40 varieties. Later more species would be added.

The park has been set up with the objective of conserving the winged wonders, which have been facing extinction due to indiscriminate use of pesticides, habitat destruction and reduced availability of food plants.

Though India is home to 1,502 species of butterflies, many of them are endemic and endangered. Kerala has 322 species. The KFRI already has set up two model parks — on the KFRI campus at Peechi and on the Teak Museum campus, Nilambur.

The park at Thenmala is the second butterfly park in the country. The first one with 100 species at Bangalore in Karnataka has been attracting visitors from all over the country and outside.

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