The Dangerous Life of a Lepidopterist

News in from India, a butterfly photographer has been kidnapped.  A local park official who was visiting the north eastern province Arunachal Pradesh was taken at night by a gang of armed youth-rebels.  Efforts to find him have been hampered by the weather and remote terrain.  India has recently become one of the most difficult countries to conduct research in, and now we are all reminded of its continuing history of violence.  Often it is within the remote and wild portions of a developing country that harbors both stunning biodiversity and militant dissidents.  While in Ecuador my group kept an eye out for Columbian FARC rebels who may have strayed across the border; thankfully it was only a minute possibility they would be there in the first place, and nothing was seen.  I think some of my most harrowing field work has been along the US-Mexican boarder states and in Mexico itself.  Drug runners would rather shoot you before asking you to move out of their way, and roaming banditos were responsible for a murder of a colleagues friend in Oaxaca years ago. Not surprisingly, the lure of untapped biodiversity keeps pulling us in.  Stay safe in the field!

2 comments to The Dangerous Life of a Lepidopterist

  • I, too, have had my most frightening experiences in southern Mexico, where Chuck Bellamy and I have gone several times in the past few years. We are routinely questioned by military police, which I guess doesn’t bother me too much (as long as I am able to successfully convince them that all we are doing is collecting bugs and that we don’t have any guns). However, one time I was confronted by a woman wearing a bandanna over her face – I was about a half mile from the car and Chuck, and she was clearly agitated about something, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying because she was talking too fast. I started getting that sinking feeling that I’d stumbled onto something I shouldn’t see, so I played the dumb American and acted like I didn’t know what was going on, then quickly hoofed it back to the car. I really don’t know what would’ve happened, but my gut still tells me I was on the edge of something bad. We want to go back this fall, but the drug violence really has us thinking twice about it.

    US border also has been tough – my truck was broken into along the Rio Grande – twice (5 miles from and 10 years after the first time). Other than that, just a few instances where border agents thought I looked suspicious and questioned me pretty hard.

    Ecuador, South Africa, Argentina? Ningunos problemas.

  • Mexico keeps calling. I recently was added onto a Mexican collecting permit and it’s such a double edged sword. Hopefully I’ll get down there soon…and make it back! I’ve had some great experiences down in Baja, but the mainland Sonora/Chihuahua/Sinaloa area is spectacularly diverse and spectacularly dangerous.

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