A new species of African butterfly has been named after an ArcelorMittal Liberia ecologist.
The recently discovered species, Wing’s Epitola - Cephetola wingae, which belongs to the family of Blues (Lycaenidae) - bears Wing-Yunn Crawley’s name in recognition of her significant contribution to ArcelorMittal Liberia’s Biodiversity Conservation Programme, which aims to prevent or compensate for the long term impact of iron ore mining operations on the environment.
The decision to name the butterfly after Wing is a rare honour in the scientific world, and a sign of the esteem in which her peers hold her.
“I am proud that one of our employees should be so valued” said John Howell, ArcelorMittal Liberia’s environmental adviser, who works closely with Wing.
A number of new butterfly species have been discovered in Liberia in recent years, in particular in the Nimba Mountains region close to where ArcelorMittal operates its Yekepa iron ore mine.
The latest discovery was made by world-renowned lepidopterist Szabolcs Sáfián, who is widely known as Sáfi. He first worked with ArcelorMittal on environmental impact assessments, and has since worked on consolidating knowledge of the flora and fauna in the Nimba mountains. His discovery has been officially recognised in the Lepidopterists’ Society of Africa journal, Metamorphosis, on 7 March 2015. Sáfi has documented more than 600 species of butterfly in northern Nimba (however it is expected that there are more than 700 species present) and his outstanding research has proved beyond doubt that Nimba is one of the most important sites for butterfly diversity in West Africa.
Commenting on the naming decision, Sáfi said:
“The species is named after Wing-Yunn Crawley, biodiversity programme coordinator for ArcelorMittal Liberia. Wing is among the most enthusiastic conservationists I have ever worked with; without her commitments, the East Nimba Nature Reserve and the Liberian Nimbas would not have received their well-deserved attention and care from conservation organisations and researchers”.
As well as assessing the diversity of species in the East Nimba Nature Reserve, Sáfi tested the methodology for a long term butterfly monitoring programme which will be included in the reserve’s management plan activities.
Butterflies are good biological indicators because they are sensitive to environmental factors such as changes in habitat, season and climate and can represent the condition of biodiversity in an area. Monitoring changes in butterfly communities could serve as a tool to measure the effectiveness of management in the ENNR.
Sáfi collected specimens from hilltops including Mount Beeton and Mount Bele. Describing how he found the new butterfly, he said: “The males of C. wingae (one or two at a time) flew around their territory quite low (5-6 metres from the ground) down in a small gap in the canopy at high speed, but were not seen settling. The captured specimens were immediately recognised to be unique, as no Cephetola species with a large blue area on the hindwing were known from the Upper Guinean forests”.
Cephetola wingae has a wingspan of 28.5mm and has black forewings with two small, brilliant blue spots. Its habitat is thought to be restricted to the upland forests of the Nimba Mountains. The butterfly is one of a number that have been recently discovered, with plans to name one through a naming auction. The money raised will be spent on Lepidoptera conservation-biodiversity research in the ENNR.
Wing-Yunn, who has worked for ArcelorMittal for more than three years, cites a number of career highlights while working in Liberia:
“Our partnership with Conservation International, who are working to pilot conservation agreements in six communities, is a huge part of our work - and something I have particularly enjoyed working on. The process is stakeholder-led and so truly consultative – it has been really interesting being involved in this and I am very excited about the agreements being signed and implemented this year.”
Wing-Yunn said that the agreements CI is piloting make conservation a viable choice for resource users by providing benefits in exchange for conservation of high priority areas and species.
She also cites her work on the Biodiversity Conservation Programme as a major career highlight:
“The BCP is truly a team effort and we could not do this on our own – it has been great building relationships and working with so many partners and stakeholders including government entities such as the Forestry Development Authority, Environmental Protection Agency and the Nimba County Authorities; the Co-Management Committee of the East Nimba Nature Reserve, community organisations namely the Community Forest Management Bodies of Blei, Gba and Zor and the Sehyikimpa Tree Nursery Development Corporation; international, NGOs Conservation International and Fauna and Flora International; development NGOs including Agricultural Relief Services Inc., Rural Integrated Center for Community Empowerment, Skills and Agricultural Relief Services and USAID PROSPER; educational institutions Nimba County Community College and local schools in northern Nimba; and specialist consultants such as Szabolcs Sáfián, Dr. Ben Phalan, Dr. Adam Manvell, Prof. Ara Monadjem, Dr. William Hawthorne, Cicely Marshall and others”.
In May 2014, ArcelorMittal Liberia announced the signing of the first-ever formally endorsed management plan for the East Nimba Nature Reserve (ENNR), a unique series of micro-habitats which are home to a number of endemic species.
Final agreement was reached when the members of the Biodiversity Conservation Programme (BCP) of ArcelorMittal Liberia, the Forestry Development Authority, Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Conservation International, the ENNR Co-Management Committee (CMC), USAID/PROSPER and members of the local community all validated the management plan, which was then finalised and fully endorsed by the FDA and the CMC. An area of the Nimba forest was declared a reserve in 2003, but a longstanding issue had been to reach agreement with local communities as to how the reserve should be managed. Consensus was reached at an ENNR Management Plan workshop in April 2013 organised by the BCP in partnership with Conservation International, whereby all stakeholders agreed that the reserve should continue to be managed as a strict nature reserve on the basis that surrounding communities would benefit from livelihood and development projects.
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