If you are in search of a magical land where colourful fairies fly around in the lush green lap of nature, away from hustle and bustle of the busy city, you will find Sammilan Shetty’s Butterfly Park at Belvai, an ideal place to fulfill such a dream. Here is the man himself, in a conversation with me about the first private butterfly park in the state of Karnataka – a park developed with natural greenery, and butterflies that are natural inhabitants. The park respects the butterflies’ freedom, and no dome or enclosure has been constructed to keep them trapped within the park. The focus is to attract them to the park by creating conditions which are conducive to a variety of species of butterflies.
Sammilan Shetty leading a butterfly trail in the park
How did this idea of the park come about?
We had a wild patch of Glory trees (Clerodendrum viscosum) near our fields. Hundreds of butterflies including Southern Birdwings and Malabar Banded Peacocks were attracted to this during the flowering season. I used to document all the butterflies that visited this patch with the help of my camera. When I needed help with identification of species I bought a field guide – ‘The Book of Indian Butterflies’ by Isaac Kehimkar, published by BNHS. In the book he mentions how one can attract and conserve butterflies, and that inspired me to start a butterfly park.
Crimson Rose (Pachliopta hector)
Caterpillar of a Common Rose butterfly
Were you always interested in butterflies?
No. I was not specifically interested in butterflies, though I was interested in nature in general. It was the fishes and birds that fascinated me during my childhood. I spent most of my time near streams catching fishes. In fact, the stream that passes through the park was my first tryst with nature.
My special interest for butterflies was born way back in 2004, when my zoology teacher Ashok CH asked me to do a project on butterflies.
Dark Blue Tiger (Tirumala septentrionis)
Who is your inspiration behind this park?
I can think of Isaac Kehimkar and Rajendra Ovalekar, who is the founder of Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Garden in Thane, Maharashtra. Their work has inspired me.
When did you start the park?
It has been 4 years since we started propagating butterfly host and nectar plants, but we officially inaugurated the park in 2013.
You are a lecturer in hotel management, how does “butterflying” fit into all this?
Yes I am a lecturer in hotel management. I am also currently pursuing an MBA degree in tourism. But butterflies are an addiction. I still go into the garden and find something new, learn something new about them. They give me a satisfaction which is not found elsewhere.
Apart from their incredible aesthetic appeal, butterflies form an important part of our ecosystem. Their transformation from egg to caterpillar, then pupa, and the adult emerging out of it, is truly an amazing phenomenon to witness. They are a significant part of nature’s food web and they are good pollinators too. Their story of migration still remains a mystery to be solved. Some types of butterflies are used as ‘indicator’ species, to identify habitats that are critical and require immediate attention for conservation.
Malabar Banded Peacock (Papilio buddha)
Can you tell us more about the park?
The park is around 7.35 acres. It also includes 3.5 acres of secondary forests, with the iconic tree of Western Ghats, the Hopea ponga, being the predominant occupant. We have planted nectar and host plants in the remaining 4 acres. Even though the host plants are here, we have not disturbed the herbs and shrubs which are naturally found in that area. They continue to grow too.
Are there any cages/domes? Are there any captive butterflies?
Not at all. I believe that nature should not be imprisoned. It is an open park where a natural habitat has been created, and the butterflies too get attracted to the plants the way they do in the wild. So one can spot new generations of butterflies, as well as new species all the time.
Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana)
What are the number of species you have recorded? Can you name few significant species which are found here?
So far in this park we have recorded 128 species of butterflies, including few rare ones like Blue Nawab, Tamil Oakblue, Banded Royal and Autumn Leaf. Other interesting species which are found here are Malabar Banded Peacock, Southern Birdwing, Clipper, Paris Peacock, Blue Oakleaf, Tamil Lacewing, Black Rajah, Redspot Duke and Malabar Rose.
Swift nectaring from Stachyterpheta flowers
What are the educational activities people can expect on visiting this park?
We ensure that every visitor to the park will learn about butterflies and their importance in nature. We take them on a tour of the whole place and show them different species of butterflies. We explain the life cycle of butterflies, their ecological importance, their preferences, their survival strategies, their adaptations, and other interesting facts about these little creatures. We also use videos and presentations to share this knowledge. This way we inspire them to love and conserve nature.
Sammilan Shetty in the audio visual room at the park, talking to children about butterflies
Why do you think such a park is a necessity in the present situation?
In today’s era of urbanisation we have lost the true love for nature. This park was born out of love and passion for wildlife. I think these kind of parks are necessary from the conservation point of view as well, to inspire the young minds to love and protect nature. Parks like these come both as a shelter for the butterflies, and provide a relaxing atmosphere for visitors.
Butterflies are indicators of bio-diversity. Apart from having a mesmerizing effect on people with their vivid colours, they indicate a healthy environment and eco-system. As butterflies are quick to react to the environmental changes, the moment we see that butterflies are struggling to survive, it should be treated as a warning.
Common Rose (Pachliopta aristolochiae)
Why do you think more people like you are coming together to start initiatives to conserve butterflies?
I don’t think we have done much to conserve butterflies. We need more young people to dedicate themselves for conservation of butterflies. The work of inspiring young minds should begin at the school level.
Unfortunately, the role of butterflies in nature has not been understood by people, not many know the significance of butterflies. They are unique and amazing creatures which deserve our attention and careful study.
Are there any other types of fauna in this park?
The park is also home to birds, spiders, dragonflies, damselflies, praying mantises, lizards, frogs and more.
Caterpillar of a Tailed Jay butterfly
What are the park timings and fees? Is there a specific season to visit?
July to November are the best months to visit the park. We are open on all Sundays from 8:30 to 12:00hrs. We charge Rs.50/- per head and students are charged Rs.25/- during peak months. During other months it is Rs.30/- and Rs.15/- per person and students respectively. Entry is free for govt. school students.
Visitors at the park
Can you suggest some tips to your park visitors?
Make a point to visit this park during the peak months to see more species and life forms. Try to be present here before 9 in the morning as it is the most ideal time to watch butterflies in the field. Plan your travel so that after visiting the park, you can visit tourist places like Modabidri, Karkala &Varanga which are in the vicinity. The park is listed on Google maps, so one can find directions there or on the park website http://www.butterflyparkbelvai.com. Most importantly, bring your kids along with you as they will enjoy this experience the most.