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The R.C. Dening Collection

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Introduction to Zambian Butterflies
by R.C. Dening F.R.E.S.

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Many Zambian butterfly species occur in evergreen forest habitats, which are, or could in future, be at risk from day-to-day human activity. We already have cause to worry about the small riverine forests to the west of Kalene Hill in the extreme northwest, with their rainforest fauna, which is unique in Zambia.

The same problem could occur in any of the small patches of evergreen forest across the north of the country (known as emushituf in the northeast, elituf in the northwest). In times past, rural local authorities have had byelaws preventing the cutting of riverine forest. These often represented the institutionalisation of pre-colonial law. In particular, some areas of evergreen forest were, and probably still remain, protected as sacred groves, in which the remains of chiefs and other important persons are laid to rest.

A new renewed emphasis on the maintenance of customary traditions regarding evergreen forest could help to reduce the risks to the butterfly fauna. But butterflies represent only one aspect of the biological loss caused by the deforestation of specialised habitats. They are also of great botanical interest.

Thus this *Checklist will serve as a baseline for monitoring the status of Zambiafs evergreen forest environment in the next century. But if this monitoring is to be effective, accurate recording of capture localities is important. Many of the rarer species have been found in only one or two isolated places. With accurate locality recording, detailed studies at local level then become possible.

Papers in the scientific press by authors with little knowledge of the rainforest ecology have suggested that, because aerial and satellite imaging shows substantial tree cover, even evergreen tree cover, in areas of Africa which are regarded as deforested, the problem has been exaggerated. However, these arguments ignore the species composition of the apparently regenerated tree cover, much of which may represent cultivated tree species (e.g. mangoes), or mere re-colonisation by the most competitive of local species. Once an area of rainforest has been laid bare, its immense ecological complexity will not regenerate within historical time.

With the gradual entry of Zambia into the global economy, and increased efficiency of its economic activities, a modern approach to habitat conservation could now be fostered among the current generation. Rural projects could include a conservation component, in which concerned staff might be encouraged to promote an interest in conservation. For instance, a proposed coffee project in the Ikelenge farming block, sited in the Kalene Hill area, might utilise its professional entomologist to monitor the status, and encourage the preservation, of its specialised habitats.

But specialised habitats are not our only conservation problem. A 1995 report concluded that, currently, 5% of deforested land in Zambia was attributable to charcoal burning, 32% to permanent agriculture, and 63% to shifting cultivation (chitemene). Shifting cultivation may ultimately result in the elimination of all trees, and the removal of so many soil nutrients that the land can only support tough, shoulder-high Hyparrhenia grasses, with an impoverished herb flora and a very limited butterfly fauna.

In times past, when rural populations were very small, and local people were happy merely to survive, such farming systems could be considered viable and sustainable. In the next century, with burgeoning populations and demands not only for food and clothing, but also for videos, TV sets and cars, such systems will represent institutionalised poverty and become seriously unsustainable.

These criticisms apply not only to shifting cultivation, but also to small farming systems generally. Many environmentalists do not appreciate the volume of chemical elements which humans remove from the soil when growing food. The disastrous consequences for the soils of Africa have been graphically documented in a major report for FAO by a large body of Dutch scientists (Stoorvogel & Smaling, 1990).

A tonne of cereal provides kilocalories and protein for, at most, four people for a year. Yet this tonne removes from the soil, on average for all cereals, 28 kilos of nitrogen (or 80 kilos of ammonium nitrate), 15 kilos of phosphorus pentoxide, and 39 kilos of potassium oxide (Stoorvogel & Smaling, p. 24). Clearly any system, which fails to provide for the replacement of these chemicals, and to a lesser extent of the other twelve nutrients required for plant growth, is doomed to disaster.

Yet farms below a critical size have utmost difficulty in finding working capital for the replacement of their soil nutrients. Moreover, many environmentalists, in counter-productive mode, persist in regarding secondary problems arising from the use of nitrate, as reasons for declaring it a pollutant, and discouraging its use in Africa.

With proper replacement of soil nutrients, the human population could be fed from a much smaller area of land, rendering unnecessary much of the current destructive deforestation.

Clearly a re-think is needed within the environmental movement.


* This introduction to Zambian butterlies was originally intended as an introduction to a Zambian Checklist being published as a book.



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History of Butterfly Recording in Zambia



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