It's that time of year again in MontrÃ©al when even the deepest and coldest snow drifts yield to the warm, melting power of the sun: the cyclists are out in full force, outdoor cafÃ©s make a comeback and people start smiling at each other on the street again. It's also the time when the butterflies go free at the MontrÃ©al Botanical Garden during the 11th annual edition of the Butterflies Go Free (Papillons en libertÃ©) event, which began in February 21 and will run until April 27th, this year featuring for the first time rare and exotic butterflies from fair-trade butterfly farms in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.This year, around 15,000 pupae were carefully imported in from far-flung places in Africa, Asia and Central America. Around a hundred freshly hatched butterflies are released per day, amounting to 2,000 butterflies fluttering around at any given time in the main greenhouse. It is the Botanical Garden's most popular event, with approximately 150,000 visitors coming each year to observe and delight at over 90 different species of these ephemeral and stunningly colourful insects.
"In a natural environment, you would never see so many butterflies or so many all at once," says the Garden's communications officer François Ouellet. "This environment is man-made, but it's spectacular."
The butterflies were purchased from a number of fair-trade butterfly breeding farms in Costa Rica, Africa and elsewhere. The Amani Butterfly Project is one such initiative, located within the biodiversity hotspot of the East Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. To protect the remaining forests, the government set up forest reserves which resulted in increased poverty among communities which depend on the forests for their livelihoods. Thus, the farms provide communities with another way to economically support themselves, while conserving local biodiversity at the same time. At Amani, farmers control membership in the project, with women making up around half of the members.
In this arrangement, conservation becomes beneficial to all, rather than a liability. Best of all, visitors to the Garden can see for themselves the magical beauty of these fragile creatures. Says Pierre Veilleux, one of the Garden's technicians: "Butterflies are ambassadors. [They] create a reconciliation between the human and insect world."
::MontrÃ©al Botanical Garden / Jardin Botanique