Review: The dangerous world of butterflies
The dangerous world of butterflies: the startling subculture of criminals, collectors and conservationists written by Peter Laufer, PhD.
This is a book I probably would have glanced at in a bookshop – and not taken much interest in it. My copy came into my possession via my wife who bought it for me for Christmas. The title and subject matter intrigued her and she took a gamble, hoping I would enjoy it.
Her gamble paid off; at times I could hardly put it down. The author, Peter Laufer, a journalist of note, had tired of writing about serious, world shattering events and theatres of war, and jokingly said at a book launch that his next book would be “about butterflies and flowers.” The idea stuck with him, but he didn’t realise how life changing that throw-away line would prove to be.
The more he delved into the world of butterflies, the more he became intrigued, fascinated and amazed. The book is written about three main aspects of butterflies: crime, collecting, and conservation. Rare and beautiful butterflies are much sought after and there is a thriving black market for the most sought after. Collectors will go to extraordinary lengths – usually illegal – to add to their hoard of specimens mounted on card with a pin. Conservationists, however, try desperately to protect the last few surviving beauties. It is a dangerous world indeed, not the least for the poor insects themselves struggling to exist in an increasingly hazardous world.
Laufer deals also with valiant attempts to breed endangered species, detailing the amazing life cycle of these beautiful, delicate miracles of nature. Large breeding centres also sell large quantities of more common species for release at weddings and other ceremonies. I’d never heard of this “use” of butterflies but the idea appeals to me. Apparently you can buy butterflies for this purpose here in Australia, though it remains mostly an American custom.