In the mountains of Pakistan, a Frenchman is on a mission. Armed with a net and a smelly cheese, Jerome Pages braves the perils of Taliban militants to chase his obsession: butterflies.
For two decades, the 64-year-old has scoured the remote, pristine landscapes of Pakistan’s north, where the Himalayas meet the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges.
He scrambles across the cedar-robed hillsides of Ayubia, 100km northwest of Islamabad, the majestic peaks of Kashmir on the horizon, chasing a butterfly known in India, but not in Pakistan.
“What a beauty. You only find this species in the Himalayas,” he says, stopping before a tiny butterfly with lime green tints on its wings.
With his helper Nasir, Pages recently spent six weeks among the woods and slopes of northern Pakistan, guarded by curious police officers wielding automatic rifles.
Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US, thousands of foreign tourists came to Pakistan to climb and hike in the foothills of some of the world’s highest mountains.
Now the risk of attack means the few who come are accompanied by armed police. In June, Islamist gunmen killed 10 foreign climbers at a camp at the base of Nanga Parbat, the country’s second-highest peak.
However, the rapid shrinking of the areas accessible to butterfly hunters has not stopped Pages jumping in his battered jeep to tour Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir — accompanied the whole time by policemen bemused at this strange foreigner’s antics.
A professor of statistics at an agricultural university in Rennes, France, Pages emerges from his chrysalis in the summer holiday to flit around Pakistan.
This year’s expedition saw him equipped on this trip with some unusual bait — a Maroilles cheese.
“A few days before I set off, my wife bought a Maroilles, but it was starting to turn. A Maroilles on the turn and a journey to Pakistan. It clicked immediately and I brought it with me,” he said.
Butterflies are attracted to rotting matter, and Pages hoped the pungent, orange-skinned Maroilles would prove a potent addition to his usual armory of decaying fruit.
However, while his guide Nasir certainly felt the kick — “It’s very strange and very strong,” he said through a pinched nose — the butterflies were not so interested in the cheese, and Pages stuck to the tried and tested fruit.
After years chasing butterflies in Turkey, Pages turned to Pakistan in 1994 almost by default. He has come to love its variety of terrain, from deserts to damp forests, and for the fact it remains unexplored by other collectors.
“Afghanistan was impossible, Iran very difficult, so Pakistan it was. The unique thing about Pakistan is the great range of habitats,” he said.
“In France, every species has been recorded for almost a century — there are no new butterflies any more — but in Pakistan there’s always the hope that somewhere off the track, you might find something new,” he said.
And in 2006, his quest bore fruit, when he found a previously unknown species, with brown and ocher wings in the Swat Valley, which been described in the past as the Switzerland of Pakistan.
He named the new butterfly “Annieae” after his wife Annie and gave specimens to the British Museum in London and the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
Sadly, it was Pages’ last visit to Swat — a year after his discovery, the Taliban seized control of the valley, banning girls from attending school and executing opponents.
An army operation flushed them out in 2009, but insecurity in Swat persists, preventing Pages returning. In October last year, Taliban gunmen shot schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai in the main town of Swat.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread
RISKY BUSINESS: The Chinese firm has stockpiled 500,000 pieces of 5G equipment not covered by US sanctions, but fears a wider ban could be announced in the UK Huawei Technologies Co believes it can supply 5G hardware unaffected by US sanctions to the UK for the next five years, sidestepping the expected conclusion of British emergency review on Tuesday. The company has stockpiled 500,000 pieces of kit, but fears a wider ban on its equipment is to be unveiled to placate rebel British Conservative Party lawmakers, who say that the Chinese supplier represents a national security risk. The British government on Friday said that it was “very likely” that British Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden would make a statement to parliament on Tuesday