The Safari West Monarch Butterfly Conservation Garden may be young but it has already become an amazing addition to our landscape and conservation work. When Safari West (with the invaluable help of Merle Reuser, our local monarch expert) first established the garden, our goal was simple. We wanted to help these beautiful and important insects in their recent struggle for survival. The species is in marked decline not only across Sonoma County but across the entire continent. As a conservation organization, we are eager to play a role in the important work of conserving this species.
The goal of the garden is to protect monarch caterpillars as they munch on milkweed, bulk up, undergo metamorphosis, and flutter away as beautiful black and orange butterflies. This task has been handled primarily by Merle with incredible assistance from our Junior Keepers; dedicated volunteers who help Merle document the comings and goings from the garden. Looking at the records kept by Merle and the Junior Keepers, it’s abundantly clear that our garden monarchs are achieving survival rates far beyond what is typical in the wild. We’re still refining our techniques and developing our methods but things are off to a great start.
As the butterflies of the spring migration moved northward, our garden had begun to quiet down. We weren’t expecting any more caterpillars this season and each day there seem to be fewer and fewer adult butterflies flitting through the trees as they continue their long migration. The plan for this hiatus was to keep the garden healthy and developing while we waited for the monarchs to come back through on their return trip in the fall. Then the Sonoma County Fair happened.
This year, the Sonoma County Fair featured a beautiful exhibit called Butterfly Adventures. Butterfly Adventures invited visitors to enter a world of butterflies in which they could interact with and explore these wonderful creatures. The people behind Butterfly Adventures did such a great job taking care of their exhibit butterflies that their delicate monarchs began to lay eggs. The fairground population boomed and quickly chewed through their supply of milkweed. Approaching starvation and the impending death of nearly 1,000 little green caterpillars, Butterfly Adventures reached out to Merle and Safari West and we rushed to provide some much-needed sustenance for their fledgling brood.
Now that the fair has come to a close, most those little caterpillars have been relocated to the butterfly garden at Safari West where they will be monitored and supported by our dedicated staff as they make their metamorphic transition to fluttering adulthood. Several of them are on display daily at the Savannah Café.
It’s late enough in the year now that as these little beauties emerge, they’ll likely head South and West rather than north, fluttering steadily toward Santa Cruz, Pacific Grove, or Pismo Beach. There they will meet up with tens of thousands of their fellow migrants and wait out the winter in the trees of the temperate coasts. Come spring, they’ll head north again and Safari West will be visited by the children and grandchildren of this current round of butterflies as they continue their ancestral migratory adventure.