Richard Cranmer Dening - a life combining a passion for natural history with colonial life in Africa and travels to exotic places.

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Hazards of Butterfly Collecting in Tropical Places
An short note written by Richard (Tim) Dening
published in the Entomologist's Record 1990. 102: 250-251

Torben  Larsen's account of collecting in the Tsavo National Park (Entomologist's Rec. J. Var. 102: 39) recalls many enjoyable times spent studying insects in unusual places. Like him, I have not often found wildlife to be a hazard.

BuffaloWild creatures normally try to avoid trouble, and the deranged individual which sees Man as a meal is pretty rare. However, one must avoid surprising an animal, or moving inside its personal "space". In some places, this can mean keeping a sharp eye open for elephants or buffaloes, or in the old days, rhino. But mostly it involves moving without too much disturbance, though not necessarily entirely in silence. Snakes in particular find it convenient to be forewarned of one's approach, although in thirty years in Africa I cannot recall being alarmed by a snake while collecting.

Only twice did I have an encounter with the big cats. On one occasion, on the Nyika Plateau on the Zambia/Malawi border, I had put a trap for Charaxes butterflies inside the forest edge. When I went to collect it, a leopard in the bushes coughed discreetly, to advise that I was getting too close. This put me in a quandary, as I had no intention of abandoning my trap. So I advanced slowly, chatting to the animal as though to my wife's Siamese cat (equally dangerous at times!). The ploy worked and I recovered my Charaxes.

LionThe second incident was more dramatic. I had driven from Sumbu to Nkamba, around the south end of Lake Tanganyika in northern Zambia, and had set up a number of traps along the road in thick scrub. On my return I was accompanied by the local Game Warden and his wife. It happened to be a boom year for Charaxes pythodorus (normally a relatively uncommon species), and the traps were packed with dozens of them, to the point of nuisance. At one trap, we had all spent several minutes sorting the wheat from the chaff, and talking loudly, when a lion which was evidently sleeping peacefully about twenty yards away in the scrub, decided it had had enough, and let out an almighty roar. No landrover was ever more rapidly re-occupied, though again we did manage to take the trap with us!



Web Editor's Note: The butterfly traps referred to by Tim were rectangular columns of cloth net, closed at the top end and secured to a square base board by cord at each corner at the bottom, leaving an opening several inches high all the way around the base of the column. The traps were hung from handy branches on bushes or trees and were baited by placing plates of such delicacies as rotten bananas on the base board. They were then left to attract butterflies, which once they have flown in, rarely figure out they need to fly downwards to escape.





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