Frenchman braves Taliban attacks to hunt butterflies

Aug 10, 2013, 01:49 IST | Agencies

In the mountains of Pakistan, a Frenchman is on a mission. Armed with a net and a smelly cheese, Jerome Pages braves the perils of Taliban militants to chase his obsession: butterflies

For two decades the 64-year-old has scoured the remote, pristine landscapes of Pakistan’s north, where the Himalayas meet the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges.

Butterfly effect: Jerome Pages and assistant Nasir chase butterflies on the hillsides of Ayubia, northwest of Islamabad. Pages is always accompanied by policemen during his trips. Pic/AFP

He scrambles across the hillsides of Ayubia, 100 kilometres northwest of Islamabad, chasing a butterfly known in India but not in Pakistan.

“What a beauty! You only find this species in the Himalayas,” he exclaims, stopping before a tiny butterfly with lime green tints on its wings.

With his helper Nasir, Pages recently spent six weeks among the woods and slopes of northern Pakistan, guarded by curious police officers wielding automatic rifles.

Before the September 11 attacks, thousands of foreign tourists came to Pakistan to climb and hike.

Now, the risk of attack means the few who come are accompanied by armed police.

But the rapid shrinking of the areas accessible to butterfly hunters has not stopped Pages jumping in his battered jeep to tour Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir -- accompanied the whole time by policemen bemused at this strange foreigner’s antics.

After years chasing butterflies in Turkey, Pages turned to Pakistan in 1994 almost by default. He has come to love its variety of terrain, from deserts to damp forests, and for the fact it remains unexplored by other collectors.

“Afghanistan was impossible, Iran very difficult, so Pakistan it was. The unique thing about Pakistan is the great range of habitats,” he said.

“In France, every species has been recorded for almost a century -- there are no new butterflies any more, but in Pakistan there’s always the hope that somewhere off the track you might find something new.” 

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