Can we leave the fireflies alone, please?

Updated: May 21, 2019, 07:50 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

With over 100 trips in the offing to parched villages during the firefly breeding season, ecologists warn of the disruptive effects

Fireflies spotted during breeding season. Representation Pic
Fireflies spotted during breeding season. Representation Pic

For wildlife enthusiasts, the soaring mercury levels are ideal for spotting big cats in tiger reserves and national parks, and the pre-monsoon period is also the breeding season for fireflies. A phenomenon that draws hoards of gawping tourists to villages like Purushwadi, Rajmachi and Bhandardara. But the high tourist footfall is not only proving detrimental to the insect, but also the residents of water-starved villages.

Starting this weekend and until June second week, over 100 such tours will be organised from Mumbai alone - something that ecologists are increasingly becoming wary of. "Imagine the havoc such numbers can wreak, when the majority of tourists aren't aware of the impact of their weekend getaway to ecologically sensitive areas," ecologist and Sprouts Environment Trust CEO Anand Pendharkar.

Anand Pendharkar, ecologist
Anand Pendharkar, ecologist

He recalls an incident from a few years ago, when such tours were limited to a handful of wildlife enthusiasts. "I had gone with a small group to Kothaligad and requested one of the villagers for some tea. The woman broke down because there was hardly any water in the house to drink, let alone make tea. That's when we decided to discontinue such treks," he says, referring to the tie-ups tour operators often have with villagers. But with "eco-trips" going commercial, his decision hasn't found resonance in the mainstream tourism industry. And with such tours growing exponentially every year, the problem of water scarcity, which coincides with the firefly spotting season, has only gone from bad to worse in rural Maharashtra, already in the grip of severe drought.

Rahul Khot, entomologist
Rahul Khot, entomologist

This surge, however, is not only a matter of concern for environmentalists, but has also put eco-tour operators that aim to sensitise the city dweller to the environment in a fix. "We order our own water tankers to ensure we don't deplete the water resources of the villages we travel to," informs Shreya Thaker, marketing and partnership associate, Grassroutes, a social venture known for its community-based rural tourism. "The idea of leisure has changed to playing loud music, lighting a campfire and creating a ruckus. When we don't allow our participants to do that, they question our itinerary. With other tour operators treating fireflies festivals as just another experience, we have lost out on clients who don't understand our philosophy," she adds.

Water woes aside, the lack of awareness on conducting oneself in nature had added to the problems. "Fireflies, which are a variety of beetles, engage in synchronised flashing of lights. This is crucial because it determines the mating success. They are also very sensitive to light, which is why you find them away from urban areas and in villages where it gets pitch dark at night. The indiscriminate use of torchlight, and flash photography to capture them disrupts their breeding process," explains Rahut Khot, entomologist and assistant director, Bombay Natural History Society. "This is a double whammy because the success rate of mating goes down, while it also chases away the existing population of fireflies in a region."

Pendharkar brings to light another disturbing trend of tourists bottling up the insect for a closer look and macro photography. "People also apply mosquito repellants and deodorants, the chemical contents of which disrupt communication between fireflies. Besides, glamping [glamorous camping] is a bane for nature," he says referring to hotels coming up in the areas, which are divorced from the rural way of life.

"It is sad to see that what started as a way of connecting people with nature is causing so much harm," laments Pendharkar. "The joy of trekking and chancing upon a swarm of fireflies is a world apart from arriving in a private vehicle, buying packaged drinking water and snacks and leaving behind carbon footprint that lingers long after you are done clicking photographs for a weekend well spent."

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