An Interview with Priyanka

Priyanka Kumari is a naturalist with a passion for butterflies. She gives lessons around her country on how to compost waste, and how to create habitat out of your own backyard. She kindly agreed to let us interview her for Rinexii, here are our questions and her answers.

Q1. You are best known for rediscovering a butterfly, the Redspot, which
was previously thought to be extinct. How did you happen to discover it?

Ans- I have a habit of surveying any area I visit. So when I visited my hometown, I started surveying butterflies in the Varanasi area of Uttar Pradesh State – India. I did this from April 18, 2021 to May 20, 2021. The area is near Banaras Hindu University which has a good butterfly diversity. Climate of the area is similar to Gangetic plains i.e. dry in summer as it was May month and the temperature was 44 °C.  The area has many shrubs and trees. On May 14, 2021 in the morning approximately at 08:00 hours while surveying the area, I observed and photographed an egg, a caterpillar and a pupa of a butterfly on Cordia dichotoma. On further investigation caterpillars were seen feeding on the young leaves of this tree.

Caterpillars were photographed with the help of a Nikon – digital SLR camera (Nikon-D7000). The female butterfly emerged from pupa on May 20, 2021  The specimen was identified as Z. chrysomallus – Red spot butterfly, with the help of available literature (Evans 1932; Wynter-Blyth 1957; Kehimkar 2016; Smetacek 2018.)

Analysis of available literature revealed that the Host tree species Cordia dichotoma is not a known larval host for Z.  chrysomallus in India. Later, on -May 26, 2021, I again observed more larvae on the same plant.

Since 1913, there are no records of this species and hence our finding  is a rediscovery of this species for the state of Uttar Pradesh- India. In addition, the plant C. dichotoma commonly called as Lasoda in Varanasi, was recorded as a new larval host, an addition to its larval food plants in India.

2. You’ve done amazing work through GreenHope. What made you decide to create it?

Ans- I guess my destiny was drawn to Green, but my brain and heart said: –“What could be different from a 9-5 job…?? Earning great money but without peace of mind. It was after giving birth to my Daughter in 2009.  With a four Months Infant baby, that bond made me fearful to leave her on helper’s mercy and start my (9-5) career again. So in 2008 I started gardening on my flower beds, I planted some herbs and flowers. During monsoon an unbearable smell welcomed me in Mumbai and it was from Deonar Dumping ground Mumbai. So I decided that my kitchen waste will not add to this dump.

For the next several weeks, my focus and my biggest concern was the quantity of waste from my house. I simply wanted to Reduce my Garbage footPrint each day, and tried everything to reduce my Waste. And gradually — I mastered the art of composting. To use all the citrus waste generated from our daily fresh juice consumption –I started making bio enzymes. And drastically my expenditure and plastic packaging of cleaning products reduced. I used bio enzymes for mopping with a dash of essential oils, and for dishes with soap nuts liquid.  Now the question was what to do with the compost–?? I decided to start soilless food gardening on windowsill by using compost and dry leaves waste from society’s banyan trees..

In contrast with my Education – Gradation In Social Science(Banaras Hindu University),  Computers(PGDCA), Aviation( Frankfinn Institute of Airhostess Training) and MBA-HR (IGNOU). I was drawn to the Green Path- Each step brought me closer to Environmental issues.

During a gardening endeavour I stumbled upon some caterpillars eating my plants and I decided to rear all caterpillars found on my plants and gifted by friends who usually throw them. To see what it’s going to be and then some turned into a beautiful butterfly, some into a moth. And then Independently out of curiosity I talked to various nurseries and asked them to give their insects to me which eat their plants and they happily obliged. So somehow I reared some 10 species of butterflies say – Lime butterfly, Red pierrot, Cycad blue, Plain tiger, Blue Tiger, Baron butterfly, Tailed Jay, Common Jay Emigrant, Common castor, Common grass yellow, Common crow, blue Mormon, Palm bob, Palmfly butterfly  and some more. After this there was no looking back and I decided to do some formal butterfly study. So I completed a six month course on Butterfly studies from BNHS and a crash course on butterfly taxonomy from Butterfly research centre, Uttrakhand. From 2008 to the present date I may have created almost 50 bags of compost from my kitchen waste and raised some three to four thousands of butterflies and released them into my surroundings.
 After mastering in composting and food gardening, I started spreading awareness by seminars, talks, and sessions. Like minded people started connecting with me for the cause of waste segregation and composting in Mumbai. I faced challenges while persuading people to take up composting and take responsibility for their own waste.

I was invited to the World Kitchen Garden Day celebration. I delivered a successful awareness Presentation on Windowsill Composting and gardening (experience sharing) on 25TH AUGUST 2013. After this it became clear that this is my calling.

I have taken hundreds of awareness sessions on waste management- composting – butterfly life cycle- food gardening, bio enzymes and recycling etc.

And nature blessed me with one species of butterfly which I rediscovered after 108 years from UP which was considered as rare in that area. You can read the rediscovery journal here–   https://www.biotaxa.org/rce/article/view/69723

Picture courtesy of Priyanka Kumari

3. What’s your favorite kind of butterfly?

Ans- this is a tough question because all butterflies are my favourite but Teinopalpus imperialis, the Kaiser-i-Hind, is one rare species of swallowtail butterfly found from north east India to Nepal to north Vietnam. This butterfly has become the State butterfly of Arunachal pradesh – one state of India.

4. What do you wish more people knew about butterflies?

Ans- My only wish is that we all keep our gardens or backyards wild for wildlife. wildlife never thrives in sophisticated gardens but wild gardens full of weeds and no chemicals.

Caterpillars never sting , only a few moth caterpillars sting otherwise all caterpillars are very harmless and cute.

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