The Tibetan Brimstone. Telegraph picture
If anyone needed proof that the sighting of a Chinese intruder can set off celebrations in Arunachal Pradesh, it has been provided by a visitor as rare as Halley’s Comet.
The Tibetan Brimstone, a butterfly subspecies seen just once before in history, has thrilled Indian naturalists by showing up at Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary in the northeastern state.
Sanjoy Sondhi and Purnendu Roy saw it in April last year, 74 years after British naturalist Frank Ludlow documented it in Tibet in 1938, the time lag almost mirroring the Halley’s Comet’s period of 75-76 years.
Official confirmation came last week when the Journal of Threatened Taxa, an international peer-reviewed periodical, published the two Indian naturalists’ report.
“This is the first time this butterfly subspecies has been recorded in India,” Sondhi told The Telegraph today, adding that the country had nearly 1,300 butterfly species.
Roy and Sondhi, who has been extensively researching butterflies and moths in the Northeast for years, work for the Titli Trust, a Dehradun-based non-profit organisation for nature conservation.
The Tibetan Brimstone is a pale yellowish green that gives it the look of a leaf, the impression accentuated by the vein-like ridges running across its sail-shaped body. Its scientific name is Gonepteryx amintha thibetana nekrutenko. Its discovery came close on the heels of another unexpected butterfly sighting at Eaglenest last year — that of Bhutan’s national butterfly — which busted the myth that Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory exists only in the country after which it is named.
“Arunachal, especially Eaglenest, is a rich biodiversity zone and probably many more species of butterflies and birds are waiting to be discovered there,” Sondhi said.
It was at Eaglenest that a new bird species, Bugun liocichla, was discovered in 2006. Only seven pairs of the species were found. The Bugun is a close relative of another rare species, found only in a few central Chinese mountains.
The 217sqkm sanctuary derives its name from the army’s Red Eagle Division, which was posted in the area in the 1950s. It is home to at least 165 species of butterflies, 450 of birds and 15 of mammals.
The Arunachal government plans to hold its first bird festival at the sanctuary early next year. “Apart from the birds, visitors will also be able to watch colourful butterflies. Nowhere else in the region would anyone find such biodiversity,” a forest official at Eaglenest said.
N.N. Zhasa, chief wildlife warden of Arunachal, said the new discoveries of birds and butterflies highlighted the unexplored biodiversity of the state and the need to protect its forests.