Position: Founding trustee and Trust secretary, Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust Pūrerehua Aotearoa (formerly the Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust).
Field: Conservation of native butterflies and moths
Jacqui Knight is a founding trustee of the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust Pūrerehua Aotearoa (MBNZT). This was established in 2005 with the aim of protecting and enhancing the overwintering site and habitat of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) at Tauranga Bay (also known as Butterfly Bay) in the far north of New Zealand and also to raise public awareness of New Zealand’s endemic butterflies. Interest in and membership of MBNZT grew quickly, so that in 2007, the objectives were broadened to encompass the needs of all endemic and native butterflies and moths.
Their mission is to increase biodiversity within New Zealand to benefit present and future New Zealanders so that our butterflies and moths and their habitat is enhanced and protected where possible.
People are doing heaps for kauri, kiwi and kākāpō but nothing for endemic butterfly species, yet insects are crucial to the ecosystem.
A child’s enquiry about butterfly overwintering
For Jacqui Knight, an interest in butterflies began with a child’s enquiry.
Jacqui’s introduction to all things natural came from her mother, so when Jacqui became a mum herself, she followed suit and introduced her son, Chris, to swan plants and the monarch butterfly’s life cycle. Chris read about monarch migration in North America and wanted to know where monarchs migrated within New Zealand. Jacqui encouraged Chris to write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper seeking information. Soon, Chris and his enquiry became the focus of newspaper articles and radio interviews. During one such interview, Chris was encouraged to start a butterfly club. People from around New Zealand wrote to Chris to tell him about butterfly overwintering sites. Chris’s simple question triggered a groundswell of interest in monarchs, but being a small boy, Chris’s interest waned after a couple of weeks so Jacqui took over.
Nature of science
Personal interests often influence the types of scientific investigations a person pursues. This happens both in the scientific research community and with citizen scientists.
Establishing the MBNZT
Jacqui’s interest in butterflies remains strong. Her role with the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) began in 2005. The MBNZT was initially formed as a local action group. Tauranga Bay (now also known as Butterfly Bay), near Kaeo, Northland, is an overwintering site for monarchs. When a developer proposed to build a luxury resort there, the MBNZT was established, and it commissioned a report on ecological issues relating to development at Butterfly Bay. For various reasons, the proposed development did not go ahead, so the monarchs’ winter habitat remains intact.
Although the MBNZT started out as a local group taking action on a local issue, it has now become a national organisation. In 2007, the members of the MBNZT elected to change its objectives to now address the needs of all endemic and native butterflies and moths. The MBNZT has over 600 members throughout the country and overseas. It holds conferences, stages exhibitions and creates public awareness about butterflies. It promotes citizen involvement in science through participation in their monarch tagging project (since 2022 this is no longer being run) and in walking transects. Jacqui serves as the MBNZT’s secretary.
And, to think, this all began many years ago with a child’s letter to the editor.
AKA Madam Butterfly
As Madam Butterfly, Jacqui visits schools and other community groups to introduce them to the world of New Zealand butterflies.
Jacqui is not the only person to see her life go full circle. Chris, the little boy who once began a butterfly club, is the person responsible for the Trust’s website and database.
Visit the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) website.
This article is based on information current in 2010 and 2022.