It’s probably much more spectacular to be involved in the protection of Organ Utangs, whales or elephants, but there are people who dedicate their entire life to the breeding and caring for butterflies. Always wanting to look behind the scenes and finding out what drives people to be passionate about a particular subject, I made a beeline, or rather fluttered off, to the Butterfly Farm as soon as that cruise ship docked in St. Thomas in the US Virgin islands. I wanted to meet the butterflies and their carers who, I thought must be if nothing else, poets at heart.
St. Thomas’ Butterfly farm is located only a short walk from the cruise ship dock and announced by many colorful signs. You enter through the shop, oay your admission, part of which you can redeem in rather tacky souvenirs from the shop if you are so inclined, and then the guard cum career meets you to take you into the farm proper.
First, you have to pass through double swing doors and a room with full lengths mirrors on all walls. “When you go out,” the girl explained, “please look at yourself carefully in the mirror. Watch your hair, your shoes and the back of your clothes, because, you see, our little butterflies like nothing better than to hitch a ride to freedom in people’s hair. But, they wouldn’t survive because the environment of St. Thomas isn’t good for them.”
That surprised me, what was a butterfly farm doing on an island that was hostile to them? “We breed them for export and most of them come from other countries too. Very few species are local.” Ok, that made some sense, but what I loved much more was the ‘spirit’ of the butterflies, trying to escape.
Once through the swing doors, we found ourselves in a tropical garden, full of trees, plants and plenty of flowers. And butterflies were everywhere, in all colors of the rainbow. “Mind your step,” the girl advised, “it’s rainy season which tires the butterflies and they often sit and rest on the ground. You don’t want to squash them”.
She proceeded to explain where the butterflies came from and then showed us how they emerge from the their cocoons, a length and very smelly process because the larvae ‘melt’ and drip until the beautiful full grown butterfly slips out. I was right though, about the ‘poet at heart’. The girl talked about her protégés as if they were her babies. You could hear and feel how enthusiastic she was about ‘her’ butterflies and she had many a funny story to tell.
“You see,” she continued, “butterflies have only one purpose in their short lives: to multiply. Of course, making nookie all day long is an exhausting task for the butterfly boys and they need to recharge batteries. That’s why we have the butterfly bars where they can rest and get happily drunk”.
I stepped closer and there they were, little dishes floating in pools of water. On them was an arrangement of vividly colored hibiscus flowers and rotting bananas. “The flowers attract the butterflies, “ she continued, “and they love the alcohol in the rotting fruit”. I watched in fascination as droves of butterfly boys descended on the bar, gobbling up the nectar and probably bragging to each other in butterfly language about their many conquests.
They may have a short life, but isn’t it a glorious one? Just having sex and getting drunk. Leaving, I made sure that none had hidden in my hair and clothes and all I can say is that rarely have I enjoyed a visit to an animal farm more than the hour I spent with my little colorful friends and the charming person who cares for them.