Butterfly house approval change

When it comes to their presence in the animal kingdom, lions, elephants and tropical butterflies represent polar opposites, but all are classified as equally hazardous when on the run.

Well, that was according to the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Environmental Protection Agency, Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin told a museum trust board meeting this week.

He was reporting on discussions over the arrangements for operating the museum's Tropical Forest butterfly house, which opened in late 2007 and has attracted thousands of visitors since.

Dr Griffin, in a report, said the aim of the discussions was to change the museum's butterfly containment approval from ''a full containment to a partial-release approval''.

''At present no butterflies should escape from our facility, but if they do the MPI must be notified of a butterfly escape in the same way a lion or elephant escape would, as the impact is considered as hazardous,'' he said.

The proposed and inappropriately named ''partial-release'' consent did not change any of the existing ''stringent criteria'' governing the housing of the museum's butterflies, but the ''categorising of any escape'' could be altered.

After a recent meeting with officials from the ministry and the agency in Wellington, he was confident a new permit would be issued some time next year.

The government organisations had ''assured us that our ability to operate the Tropical Forest is not under any threat.''

Dr Griffin said about 20 butterflies had escaped from the forest in recent years, a high proportion of them having been found in nearby parts of the museum.

Museum visitor interaction and programmes director Helen Horner said staff already went to extreme measures to prevent butterflies escaping. More than 100,000 butterflies had lived in the forest since it opened and only a few had escaped, some leaving, unnoticed in visitors' clothing.

The butterflies could not survive outside the museum, and no host plants for them grew in Dunedin.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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