Queen Alexandra Butterfly Conservation
Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly (QABB), Ornothoptera alexandrae (Rothschild 1907), belongs to the Swallowtail or Papilionidae Family, which comprises some 30 genera totalling approximately 550 described species.
As the world’s largest butterfly, female specimens can measure up to 30cm, and males up to 20cm. They enjoy a life span of about three to six months.
Sadly, the QABB remains one of the world’s most endangered species due to habitat destruction and its very limited distribution.
Its Endangered Status
Distribution of the QABB appears to be confined to two locations in the North Eastern (Oro) Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG). One is close to sea level on the plain surrounding Popondetta, and the other is some 650m higher up on the Managalas Plateau (the Plateau), to the south east.
Since 1987, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has featured the QABB in Appendix I, reserved for the world’s most endangered animals and plants. Only three butterflies, all Papilionidae, feature in Appendix I.
Working with Sime Darby Group staff in PNG, and with some assistance from the Sime Darby Foundation, a three year programme has just been initiated in the Popondetta area to carry out a captive breeding programme to augment the wild population.
The co-operation and assistance of local landowners on the Plateau has also been obtained with the help of a locally-based NGO, and late last year the PNG government gazetted 3,600 sq km of the Plateau as a conservation area.
Thus in time, we hope that these efforts may justify the removal of the QABB from CITES Appendix I.
It is possible that the populations at the two locations might be separate subspecies, because their life cycles are markedly different, and specimen sizes too. In addition, research needs to be carried out on the food plant, an Aristolochia vine, and its relationship with the butterfly. This Aristolochia group of vines is not well researched, and so we may be dealing with more than one species of food plant.
The Project’s Website
The Swallowtail and Birdwing Butterfly Trust (www.sbbt.org.uk) was set up in August 2017 to champion the conservation of the QABB and other species, and to
provide a funding portal for donors. The Project’s progress may be followed here too.