Centre for African Butterflies
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CAB

Centre for African Butterflies (CAB)

Centre for African Butterflies (CAB)

LepSoc Africa has commenced with a storage facility for African lepidoptera specimens (butterflies and moths). André Coetzer has provided a building for us to use and, thanks to generous donations by our members, we have made solid progress with the necessary renovations and preparatory work. We have been bequeathed several collections, including two large and important ones, courtesy of Graham Henning and Steve Woodhall. We currently hold about one hundred thousand specimens and are busy with building upgrades that will enable us to increase this number to about half a million.  We estimate that there may be a million African butterfly specimens held in private collections in South Africa alone. Many of these collections have no succession plan; they are not wanted by our national museums and, in any case, the future curatorship at many of our museums is far from secure. This situation is only going to get worse – if LepSoc Africa do not save these collections, no one else will.

 

The Afrotropical bioregion contains the second largest diversity of butterflies on earth, behind only the Amazonian rainforest. The well-publicised Insect Apocalypse is a reality - the only serious debate is whether climate change, the use of insecticides, or ongoing habitat destruction are the principal drivers. The material in private collections, in South Africa particularly, includes representatives of species that will probably never be seen in the wild again; butterflies such as Scarce Silver-spotted Copper (Trimenia malagrida malagrida), Tygerberg Monkey Giant Cupid (Lepidochrysops methymna dicksoni) and Tygerberg Hillside Brown (Stygionympha dicksoni). There is growing concern that even species that were flying as recently as five years ago may have gone extinct: butterflies such as the Brenton Blue (Orachrysops niobe) and Waterberg Sunset Copper (Erikssonia edgei) have not been recorded for several years. Apart from these - possibly extinct - butterflies, the collections represent a huge amount of time and effort and the data contained within them has immense scientific value. Increasingly, DNA sequences are being obtained from old museum material – the specimens within the new Lepidoptera Store may ultimately resolve evolutionary pathways and hidden taxonomic relationships. In addition, the collection will become a focal point for researchers of African Butterflies.

 

Who would sponsor a butterfly storage facility and why? Apart from the major importance of this development to African natural-history and science, an investor could receive naming rights (the Smithsonian Institute springs to mind) and an African butterfly centre, if properly designed and managed, would become a well-known landmark both among specialist lepidoptera researchers and the general nature-loving public.

 

The Natural Science Collections Facility (NSCF) (closely associated with the South African Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)) has pledged financial support for ongoing curation and data assimilation of the collection; our ultimate goal is for CAB to be fully owned and managed by LepSoc Africa.

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