A firefly exhibition in Guangzhou, Guangdong province has upset various animal protection groups, who accused the event's organizers of threatening the insect’s population, as well as damaging the environment.
The nine-day exhibition, showcasing thousands of fireflies kept in jars, opened at MAG United Magic World in the capital city of the southern province on April 14. In order to ensure that the insects light up, employees reportedly shake the jars continuously, a move that has been criticized by animal protection groups as “barbaric and ruthless.”
“The exhibition requires 1,000 new fireflies every day to replace the dead ones. Normally, the life span of fireflies is around one week; those kept in jars may only live for three days. In addition, the exhibition organizers have abandoned many old and weak fireflies, who cannot survive in Guangzhou’s climate,” Li Ping (pseudonym), a firefly protection volunteer, told the Beijing Times.
According to Li, around 120 such exhibitions took place in China in 2016, with each event involving approximately 10,000 fireflies.
“The sponsor of the exhibition told us that they bought the insects from a firefly farm in Yunnan province, but the truth is, technology in China is not yet advanced enough to breed fireflies. Most fireflies in the exhibition were collected from the wild,” said Li.
“Due to the abuse of fertilizer and pesticides, the firefly population in China has dropped significantly in recent years, which has led to a boom in firefly exhibitions. The exhibitions are supposed to help the public understand the insects’ role in nature - they aren't meant to be just for fun,” said Xu Song, director of the Firefly Preservation Association of Guangzhou.
Currently, fireflies are not protected by Chinese law, but authorities should nevertheless restore the insects’ habitats, as well as raise public awareness about the need to protect them, Xu said.
Agreeing with Xu, Fu Xinhua, an associate professor at the College of Plant Science & Technology of Huazhong Agricultural University, said that fireflies are globally recognized as an important indicator of the health of the environment.
To save the fragile lives of these important insects, China has set up its first firefly reservation on Dalei Mountain in the city of Xianning, Hubei province. Spreading across 22 square kilometers, the park currently boasts 17 kinds of fireflies, with a total population of 500,000.
In Songzi, another city in Hubei, there is currently an initiative to rebuild the local habitats of fireflies. The city hopes that renewed firefly populations in the region can in turn attract tourists, according to a 2016 report released by Hubei-based NGO Firefly Conservation Research Center.