The authorities in Taiwan have stepped up measures to protect as many as a million Purple Crow butterflies as they make their annual mass migration from southern Taiwan, where they winter in warmer climates, to their breeding grounds in the north.
For the second year running, one lane of a highway in Yunlin county will be cordoned off to traffic during the butterflies’ peak flying periods – as it lies along their migratory path. Taiwan used to be called the Kingdom of Butterflies, with more than 400 species; 40 of them unique to the island. But in recent years, their numbers have fallen. close up of this gorgeous butterfly
The authorities are closing off a 2km section of the outer lane of the motorway when the number of butterflies flying past exceeds more than 500 per minute. 4 m high safety nets have been set up to encourage the insects to fly high above the traffic. And hundreds of new trees have been planted alongside the highway to serve as natural safety nets and rest areas. Lights have been installed under an underpass to encourage the butterflies to travel below the road, avoiding traffic altogether.
Altogether, its costing around $80,000. But Lee Thay-Ming, director general of the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau, says its worth it.
"Its very special..only can find in Taiwan so we are proud to spend a little money to do some protection for the butterfly and environment; to protect them for our next generation. "
Many children from local schools have got involved in projects to track the butterflies and learn more about them. Jefferson Tseng is a teacher at Cheng Kung elementary school
"I want the children to know where these butterflies come from and where they are heading", he said. " The butterflies face a lot of problems, such as this highway that causes a barrier to their migration. I brought the children here to learn more about the animal, to foster more love for our land, Taiwan. "
Its hard filming butterflies..believe me; especially without a telephoto zoom. Anyhow, this is part of my effort!
There’s little sign of butterflies along the road when I visit But I travel to a farm, just 20 kms away, where thousands of Purple Crow butterflies are taking nectar in the woods, gathering strength before they continue their long journey. They’re highly sensitive to cloudy or cool temperatures – and will not continue their migration until the weather conditions are perfect.
"In the world, there are only 2 kinds of butterfly they migrate like a bird..and in the winter, overwinter in a particular valley", says Chan Chia-lung, a researcher from the Purple Crow Conservation Society, who has been working with the authorities to help protect the insects. "One is in Mexico, its [the] Monarch [butterfly], the other in Asia, in Taiwan, is the Purple Crow."
He tells me the health of the butterflies is an important indicator about the state of our environment. "The butterfly, the population declines over the past 5 years; its an important signal that our environment is bad. so we have to pay more attention about the butterfly and the environment."
The loss of the butterflies’ natural habitats – through road building and other human activities – is the main reason their numbers have fallen. But environmentalists hope that these latest steps to provide the purple crow a safer passage home – coupled with a greater public awareness of the threats they face – can help to reverse that trend
And this is just a pretty flower I took a photo of as we started to make our way home.