India's Contraband Wildlife

A butterfly sits on a flower on the outskirts of Agartala, India, in June 2007
Jayanta Dey / Reuters

India is home to 1,500 species of butterflies, which are found practically all over the country and especially in the many mountain ranges like the Himalayas, the Nilgiri Hills and the Western Ghats that slice the country into separate geographical regions. But of late, these small, winged beauties have been disappearing both due to depletion of forest cover and to poachers who smuggle prized species such as the threatened Apollo and Swallowtail into China and countries in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand. Here, they are sold as curios, often finally making their way to destinations in the West. Given lack of awareness among rural communities in India, intrepid smugglers have been known to pay off locals at rates of $1 per catch, which they then sell in the international market for as much as $3,500. There have been many incidents where international smugglers were released from police custody because no one knew whether the butterfly was a threatened species or not.

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