news Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | November 11, 2014 | 6 pm IST Sammilan Shetty fell in love when he was in college pursuing a Bsc degree. His parents and family knew about his interest, and maybe thought that it was a passing thing. Now, several years later Sammilan has managed to convince his family to learn to love what he loves. It’s not a woman who stole his heart, but a little creature that he got to know when doing a project in college. Today, what started out as an assignment has turned into a labour of love.  With the help of his family, fellow enthusiasts, and experts, Sammilan runs a butterfly park in his village Belvai around 52 km from Mangalore, a place where you can see 150 butterflies in a single day if you visit in season. He has gradually turned the land his mother owns, even the paddy fields, into a 7.35-acre area which is a paradise for butterflies. And it’s not just that the creatures are pretty-looking. Sammilan says that butterflies are integral to the environment, something that mattered to him even before he became interested in them. Sammilan was introduced to the winged creatures when he was doing a project that required him to identify and document butterflies near his house for a zoology class. The more he got to know the creatures, the more they interested him. Twenty-nine-year-old Sammilan Shetty runs Sammilan Shetty's Butterfly Park in Belvai Reading The Book of Indian Butterflies written by Isaac Kehimkar, Sammilan came across a section in which Kehimkar explains how people could actually grow plants that would attract butterflies. In 2011, he began by planting lemon trees and curry leaf trees. Gradually, he planted more trees that were “host” plants (plants in which the eggs are laid) and “nectar plants” (which the butterflies rely on for nectar). One after another, he rattles off the scientific names of the different kinds of plants that were necessary to attract butterflies, without the slightest hesitation, slowing down only to spell out the words on request.Last September, he recorded 60 different species of butterflies in his park and counted a total of 800 that month. The best time to visit is June-November, he says. One of the species that is a regular visitor is the Southern Birdwing, the biggest Indian butterfly with a wingspan of 19 cm.  The Southern Birdwing Sammilan’s parents and family were not very happy with his hobby initially. “But once they started to see the eggs and the caterpillar change, they too began to get inspired. Now, my mother can identify different species, she knows which are the host plants and the nectar plants and a lot more,” Sammilan says. Initially, he put his savings into the venture, but two years after he first embarked on it, he told his family about wanting to create a full-fledged butterfly park. With support from other butterfly enthusiasts, his family and his brother who works as a software engineer in Bangalore, he set up the park. Abhijna Desai, a 20-year-old freelance artist loves to "have a good time butterflying" at the park, where she first came looking for the Malabar Banded Peacock. The one perched on her nose is a Banded Blue Pierrot. She says the photo is both a pose and is not. The first time round, she managed to get the butterfly on her finger and placed it on her nose. It flew away and came back once more. The idea apparently, is not to make money, even though he and his family have spend a total of Rs 6 lakh on saplings, maintenance, irrigation, a projector, a good camera and other facilities to make the park a fun visit. A little girl at the park tries to take a photo at the park in Belvai, Dakshina Kannada district. “I want people to conserve nature. If you conserve butterflies, you can conserve an entire forest. Butterflies are an indicator organism. By counting the number of butterflies (in a particular area) you know how healthy a habitat is,” Sammilan says. School children on a trip to the park. With this in mind, he has kept the park free for children of government schools, but other students pay Rs 25 per head, and adults Rs 50. When school children or others visit, he takes them on a tour of the whole place, showing them different species of butterflies and explaining the life cycle of butterflies, their ecological importance, their preferences, their survival strategies, the manner in which they have adapted, and other interesting facts about the little creatures. Sammilan is a lecturer in hotel management, and is currently pursuing an MBA degree in tourism. Asked how his “butterflying” fits into all this, he simply said: “Satisfaction. Butterflies are an addiction. I still go into the garden and find something new, learn something new (about them). You can save the forests through butterflies.” (Photo Courtesy: Sammilan Shetty's Butterfly Park Belvai, MangaloreFacebook page, Abhijna Desai and Sammilan Shetty)

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