A butterfly house is changing the lives of coastal peoples living near tropical forests in Kilifi, Kwale and Taita Taveta.
The Mombasa Butterfly House, which is a Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge, has brought new economic and ecology gains.
Ms Maria Fungomeli, a senior curator and researcher, says the house uses the beautiful creatures for environmental education, eco-tourism and earnings.
“The house raises awareness on the importance of butterflies and forests,” she said in an interview.
She added that a butterfly park by the sea complements the nearby Fort Jesus World Heritage site. “This house is the latest addition to Mombasa’s attractions,” said Ms Fungomeli.
The Kenya Coastal Forest ecosystem is part of an important continental zone of natural species.
Ms Fungomeli said that although many people were well aware of local beaches, few visitors knew about the natural values of the region.
“The exhibits here seek to provide such information using attractive live butterflies and interpretive boards,” she said.
There are many social benefits brought about by the butterflies, which Ms Fungomeli described as the second best in Africa, after South Africa. Also, the house is an unique eco-tourism facility.
In the one-and-a half years that the house has been operational, nearby people have sold 3,500 butterfly pupae, earning about $2,676 (Sh275,628).
“The house offers a ready market to butterfly farmers. The Sh275,628 income to the community may not seem much for a high-level urban lifestyle, but it makes significant improvement to rural lifestyles, especially in regard to basic needs such food, shelter and education,” she said.
The facility is also an avenue for research and education on biodiversity, as well as forest conservation through community involvement in breeding and sale of pupae. When farmers’ livelihoods improve through better earnings, there is more willingness to support forest conservation, reducing charcoal burning.
Butterflies, just like bees, play an important role in plant pollination. But they face great challenges from climate change. They are indicators of a healthy environment and ecosystem. When the environment is polluted or destroyed, butterflies are among the first creatures to migrate.
Butterflies have enabled people living around the Arabuko Sokoke Forest in Kilifi and the Kwale-Shimba Hills Forest in Kwale to earn income through breeding.
The butterflies displayed at the Mombasa house are purchased from farmers near coastal forests, particularly Arabuko Sokoke in Gede, Kilifi, Taita Hills in Taita Taveta, Shimba Hills in Kwale, and even Kakamega Forest in Kakamega, Western Kenya.
“Contracted farmers are trained through the Kipepeo project in Gede to breed butterflies to pupae stage to display to visitors,” said Ms Fungomeli.