All about LepSoc

The Lepidopterists' Society of Southern Africa ('LepSoc') was born in 1983 as the Lepidoptera Study Group of Southern Africa. It was intended as an organization not for gain, but to promote both the professional and amateur lepidopterists' interest with the main objective of significantly contributing to the overall knowledge of the diversity, taxonomy, habitats, distribution and life cycles of this fascinating group of insects.

Initially, the Society created a forum where all interested parties could communicate. Lepidopterists who were members had access to a list of telephone numbers and addresses of fellow enthusiasts. New friendships began and efforts began to be coordinated. New discoveries were made and the known range of several species was extended widely.

LepSoc publishes a refereed journal, Metamorphosis (ISSN 1018-6409). Also, the Society has published, or assisted in the publication of, many books and papers on African lepidoptera. Examples are the South African Red Data Book - Butterflies in 1989 and A Practical Guide to Butterflies and Moths in 1992.

Recognising that it represented lepidopterists working all over the continent, the Society in 1996 changed its name to The Lepidopterists' Society of Africa.

The focus of LepSoc has shifted over the years from providing a communication medium for specialists and collectors, to a wider, more conservation-focussed approach. Members were instrumental in creating three reserves to protect endangered butterflies. The Ruimsig Entomological Reserve in Roodepoort was set aside to conserve the Roodepoort Copper Aloeides dentatis dentatis. Then the Brenton Blue Butterfly Reserve, a Special Nature Reserve was proclaimed to conserve the last colony of the Brenton Blue Orachrysops niobe. This was set up with the Brenton Blue Trust . The Alice Glockner Nature Reserve near Heidelberg was found to have a strong population of Heidelberg Copper Chrysoritis aureus. LepSoc members helped remove a threat hanging over this reserve, proclaimed in 1973, of being de-proclaimed for low cost housing.

In 1998, a database collating system called Lepidops (Link), and the database itself, Lepibase, was started. It now holds tens of thousands of data and is the prime vehicle for members to record their observations and collections.

In 2005, LepSoc began a three-way partnership between LepSoc, the Animal Demographic Unit (ADU) of the University of Cape Town, and the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The South African Butterfly Conservation Assessment (SABCA) was set up to gather all available data on our butterflies' numbers and distribution, assisting SANBI in its mandate to report to government on the health of SA's biodiversity. All data from known collections around the world was gathered in one database. The project went beyond the membership of LepSoc and established a public Virtual Museum (VM) and started organising Butterfly Census Weeks (BCW's).

SABCA was funded by the SA and Norwegian Governments, and LepSoc members themselves in the form of time and money spent on carrying out butterfly surveys. Over four years nearly 350000 data were gathered – of which nearly 18000 came from the public. Many new localities have been found, and the conservation status of all SA's butterflies – not only the threatened ones - has been updated and is soon to be published.

SABCA was a great success, and it raised public awareness of butterflies to a new level. But it tended to raise more questions than it answered, and of course it was limited to butterflies which make up less than 10% of the Lepidoptera; the rest being moths.

Outcomes of SABCA include:

  • Greater public interest in butterflies and moths, and a decision to carry on with SABCA as LepiMAP, expanded to include moths, and cover the whole of Africa.
  • Establishment of the VM and BCW's, and the opportunity to continue and expand these in a similar manner to that done by Butterfly Conservation in the UK. This is carrying on under a Memorandum of Agreement with the ADU, and is being funded by the income from the Conservation Assessment book.
  • BCWs are being replaced by SpringBASHE and AutumnBASH.  BCW proved difficult because of unpredictable weather. Also, the identification of species seen could not always be verified to the same degree of accuracy as used in LepiMAP. LepSoc and ADU have therefore decided to change BCW to two seasonal, month-long ‘BASHES’, with a photographic emphasis. 
  • A statistics-based assessment of the conservation status of all our butterflies, leading to the formation of a team of Custodians to coordinate efforts to conserve all SA's threatened Lepidoptera. This is now known as COREL (Custodians Of Rare and Endangered Lepidoptera). Each threatened species has been allocated a Custodian, whose duties are explained here.

Starting in 2007 with a permitting agreement with CapeNature, LepSoc began its programme of cooperation with provincial conservation authorities. Agreements are now in place with the Eastern Cape Nature Conservation Department, Mpumalanga Nature Conservation, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, SanParks and isiMangaliso Wetlands Park. This is needed to facilitate LepMAP and COREL.

The Caterpillar Rearing Group (CRG) was born out of a member's initiative to gather photographic data on moth caterpillars (The Great Moth Caterpillar Hunt Challenge). It was needed because the great majority of our Lepidoptera have never been reared from egg through to adult and nothing is known about their biology. Such knowledge is vital to their conservation. CWG is a broad based activity, aimed at encouraging people keen on rearing livestock to record and publish their findings.

LepSoc has signed a Memorandum of Agreement to affiliate to SANBI - the South African National Biodiversity Institute. The two organisations are collaborating closely on conservation projects to ensure that the momentum created by SABCA carries on beyond 2011. But, SANBI is severely limited in its ability to fund projects, so LepSoc is committed to fundraising in order to drive forward the outcomes listed above. We hope to find support from conservation-minded companies and individuals.

Your membership fees go towards supporting all these conservation-centred projects. As a membership-based Society, LepSoc cannot register as a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO). But as a trustee of the Brenton Blue Trust it can solicit funds to support activities that support the aims of the Trust. The Trust has broadened its scope to cover the conservation of ALL Lepidoptera across ALL of Africa. So, if you've read about LepSoc and want to support us further, please hit the DONATE button. You can select which project you wish to support, make a general donation to the Society, or specify a new project subject to approval by the trustees. As a PBO, the Brenton Blue Trust is able to issue tax certificates to donors.

Steve Woodhall
President - Lepidopterists' Society of Africa
December 2013

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