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Return of the colourful emperor, 6 decades on

- Rare species of butterfly, believed to be extinct, caught live on camera in Arunachal Pradesh

Jorhat, Aug. 26: The emperor has returned, after almost 60 years.

Kaiser-i-Hind (teinopalpus imperialis), a rare butterfly species believed to be almost extinct in India, was captured live on camera by a few participants during the three-day Ziro butterfly watching meet in Talle valley wildlife sanctuary, about 17km from Ziro valley, the headquarters of Lower Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh. The event ended a couple of days ago.

The large, brightly coloured Kaiser-i-Hind, which literally means Emperor of India, is one of the 557 insect species included in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) red list of threatened species. In India, it is listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Monsoon Jyoti Gogoi, an expert on butterflies, said the elusive swallowtail butterfly species was once commonly found in the higher altitude forest areas, between 1,828m and 3,048m, in the Northeast but had become almost extinct because of smuggling and habitat loss. It is also found in Nepal and in a couple of Southeast Asian countries.

“The Kaiser-i-Hind is a much-sought-after butterfly for its beauty and rarity. It was in great demand in butterfly parks around the world and in museums and as such a large number of these were smuggled out, pushing it to the verge of extinction,” he said.

Gogoi, who was a resource person at the Ziro meet, which ended on August 24, said this particular species of butterfly prefers to stay on top of trees and is very difficult to spot. “It was plentiful near Cherrapunji in Meghalaya around 60 years ago,” he added.

He said the first dead specimen of Kaiser-i-Hind was recorded in Sikkim by Usha Lachugpa, a senior forest official of the state, in 2012. “Recently, a worn-out specimen of the species was found in Manipur by one Baleshwor Soibam. But this is the first time the butterfly has been spotted live in almost 60 years,” he said.

Punyo Chada, coordinator of the Ziro meet, said there were 20 participants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and the team of Hage Habung, Habung Gyuthe and Tage Kano sighted the particular butterfly on Sunday. “Hage Habung was the first to sight the rare species followed by the other two photographers,” he said. The participants covered an 11 square km area.

Chada said this was the first time that such an event was held at Ziro valley, which has been seeking a World Heritage Site status. “Our aim is to create awareness about the beautiful butterflies around us and their importance to the environment. Ziro valley is famous for several such rare species.” He said the organisers were planning to make the butterfly-watching meet an annual event in a bid to attract tourists to the beautiful Ziro valley.

Issac Kehimkar, an avid naturalist, author of The Book of Indian Butterflies and general manager of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) told The Telegraph over phone from Mumbai that the particular butterfly is the rarest of the rare butterfly found in the country.