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The Luzon peacock swallowtail butterfly (Papilio chikae) is endemic to Luzon island in the Philippines, as the species' full name suggests. When a creature is endemic to an area, it means that it can't be found anywhere else. Unfortunately, this beautiful creature is classified as "endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species due to dwindling numbers caused by butterfly collecting.
The peacock swallowtail's environment is limited to a central mountain range in the north of Luzon island. It is only found in the mountains of the Cordillera Central because it can't live in the climate below an altitude of 1,500 meters. The butterfly is usually found in the tropical pine forests of the area, which form part of a UNESCO world heritage site called Mt. Pulag National Park. Much of this area is cloud forest and a number of other flora and fauna species are endemic to it, in addition to the swallowtail butterfly.
The Collector Threat
Butterfly enthusiasts are probably the biggest threat to the peacock swallowtail, although any loss of habitat would also impact the numerous endemic species of the region. The butterfly was discovered in 1965 by S. Igarashi and it's stunning coloration made it highly prized by butterfly collectors. This butterfly flies quite slowly, making it easy to catch. The high prices offered for a peacock swallowtail make it a tempting target for poachers.
Tourism is another threat. Baguio is a popular tourist destination within the Luzon butterfly's habitat. The population increases to several times its usual size and an IUCN report on swallowtail butterfly conservation states that keeping humans out of the butterflies' habitat is a priority. On Mount Santo Tomas, where the swallowtail was discovered, road building has damaged the habitat and made it easier for tourists and poachers to enter the species' living space.
The Philippines has a significant number of swallowtail butterfly species, giving it priority status when it comes to conservation programs. The IUCN study on the conservation of swallowtails suggests that not enough information has been gathered about the Philippines' endemic butterfly species and that little has been done to protect the habitat. The peacock swallowtail's endangered status has not been reassessed since 1996, although a more recent evaluation by Japanese and German researchers in 2004 suggests the situation may be less bleak, and that the Luzon peacock swallowtail population is greater than the IUCN suggests.
- Butterfly Corner: Papilio Chikae (Luzon Peacock Swallowtail)
- Earth's Endangered Creatures: Luzon Peacock Swallowtail Facts
- National University of Singapore Life Sciences: The Luzon Peacock Swallowtail
- UNESCO: Mt. Pulag National Park
- IUCN: Swallowtail Butterflies: An Action Plan For Their Conservation
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Papilio Chikae
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images