Rare Kinabalu Birdwing declared as Sabah’s State butterfly


(From left to right) Dr Stephen Sutton, Rotary Kota Kinabalu President James Quek, Liew, Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Datuk Mohd Yusrie Abdullah and Sabah Biodiversity Centre director Dr Gerald Jetony.

KOTA KINABALU (Oct 2): The rare Kinabalu Birdwing (scientifically known as Troides andromache) now takes its place as one of the state’s flora and fauna icons as it has been declared as the Sabah’s State butterfly.

It joins the ranks of the Orangutan, Proboscis monkey, rafflesia, Slipper orchid, sea turtles and Borneo pygmy elephants among others, that had one time or another been used to promote the state’s tourism.

The Kinabalu Birdwing is a unique and endemic butterfly species that resides within the montane regions of Mount Kinabalu and Crocker Range. Since its discovery around 1892, it has remained elusive because it lives at elevations between 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level.

This distinctive characteristic has piqued the interest of entomologists, especially those from abroad, and collectors worldwide have been captivated by this birdwing species for over two centuries.

Also recognised as the Borneo Birdwing, this large butterfly boasts a wingspan of about 60 mm to 70 mm.

Males display a combination of black, yellow and grey hues, while females feature additional brown and white patterns on their wings. These unique characteristics, along with its ecological significance, make it a remarkable species.

The unveling of the Kinabalu birdwing or Kalibambang Emas in Malay, by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Christina Liew, acknowledges it as a symbol of the state’s rich biodiversity as well as establishing it as a new tourism icon for Sabah and highlighting Sabah’s status as a hub of insect mega diversity.

Liew in her speech said that the Kinabalu Birdwing truly embodies the essence of Sabah’s natural heritage.

“I wish to commend and congratulate the Sabah Biodiversity Centre on its effort in presenting and successfully getting the State Cabinet to endorse the Kinabalu Birdwing as Sabah State Butterfly.

“The State Cabinet on 13th September 2023 approved the proposal to declare the Kinabalu Birdwing as the State butterfly and chose the name ‘Kalibambang Emas’ in the local ethnic language. This name signifies a large and vividly coloured butterfly, and serves as a symbol of our dedication to preserving Sabah’s natural wonders for future generations,” said Liew.

She added that the decision carried significant advantages for the state as it offered the opportunity to establish a new tourism icon, a symbol of Sabah’s rich and diverse natural treasures.

“By making the Kinabalu Birdwing our State butterfly, we also acknowledge Sabah’s status as a hub of insect mega diversity. This will not only capture the hearts of nature enthusiasts but also contribute to our conservation efforts, indirectly ensuring the preservation of its habitat.

“I am also pleased to know that this declaration has been possible due to collaborative efforts between the Sabah State Government agencies and the Kinabalu Birdwing Project, especially to Dr Stephen Laurence Sutton, the leading researcher of the Kinabalu Birdwing Project, who has played an important role in getting the above butterfly known.

“I would also like to acknowledge the role of Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu in helping to preserve the elusive butterfly through a project in Kampung Kiau Nuluh. Since 2019, the Rotary Club of Kota Kinabalu has assembled a team of volunteers to work with homestay operators in Kampung Kiau Nuluh.

“This is to encourage tourists to visit and enjoy and capture pictures and videos of the birdwing butterflies in the mountain forests of Mount Kinabalu. The aim of this collaboration is to provide the homestay operators with a new, sustainable income stream from nature tourism, specifically targeting the rare Kinabalu Birdwing,” she stressed.

Liew lamented that the Kinabalu Birdwing faces the threat of extinction and habitat destruction. It has been categorised as ‘Vulnerable’ on the Red Data List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a protected animal under Part I of Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

The state Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry, she said, would look into the possibility of upgrading the protection of the Kinabalu Birdwing from Schedule 2 to Totally Protected Species in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

“We must act swiftly and decisively to protect this unique creature and the ecosystems it relies upon. We must protect and promote the Kinabalu Birdwing Butterfly as a symbol of Sabah’s rich biodiversity. Together, we can ensure that this species continues to grace our forests, serving as a reminder of the importance of conservation and our responsibility to safeguard the treasures of our beloved state,” said Liew.

Speaking at a press conference later, Liew said that she would like to see the Kinabalu Birdwing printed on a stamp and grace the Pos Malaysia’s First Day Cover.

“I hope that a proposal would be made to the Director General of Pos Malaysia as this is a recognition of the state butterfly which we are proud of,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sabah Biodiversity Centre (SaBC) director Dr Gerald Jetony said at the press conference that developing a sense of belonging among the local community for the flora and fauna of Sabah would go a long way in the protection of the plants and animals.

“They need to know that they have ownership of the flora and fauna as well as the habitat. Get them involved in protection and conservation efforts,” he said.

Dr Gerald said that it was important to engage the local communities with the protection of the resources and also if possible, the commercial side of the project.

“It is important to look into these people getting some benefit from the tourism product as the butterfly brings a synergy to the people who depend on nature as a source on income,” he said.

He was replying to a question on efforts to spread knowledge and awareness among the local community the importance of the butterfly and how they can do enforcement to prevent negative impact on the insect.

Tourism, Culture and Environment Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Datuk Mohd Yusrie Abdullah who was also at the press conference, added conservation is important to ensure the sustainability of the flora and fauna.

“Research is equally important because as someone who grew up in the highlands, the kalibambang was normal to me but after the research was done, it was discovered that the butterfly is endemic to Sabah and only found in certain areas.

“Now more people will take care of it and the whole world will acknowledge that it is a treasure,” he said.

On the steps taken to curb possible smuggling of such a rare insect, Dr Gerald said SaBC will coordinate with all the relevant state enforcement agencies on the matter.