During summer 2016, some pretty alarming reports began circulating around the English-speaking world concerning commercial harvesting of Chinese fireflies from wild populations (see earlier post). In December, an international group of firefly experts called Fireflyers International Network (FIN) wrote a letter to the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection denouncing this practice. In March 2017, after receiving a very thoughtful response from the Chinese government, I’ll admit I felt pretty encouraged.
A villager collects fireflies attracted to his motorcycle headlight (Jiangxi Province, 2016).
But, sadly, the future remains grim for Chinese fireflies.
According to this article by reporter Zeng Jinqiu for Beijing News, villagers in rural areas can still make a pretty penny harvesting adult fireflies. Unfortunately, these adults only live for about one week, and once removed from their native habitat, they’re unable to successfully reproduce.
Who is buying live Chinese fireflies? It looks like the biggest consumers are giant new indoor amusement parks that have popped up in various cities, and which put on live firefly shows for paying customers.
During 2016, over fifty commercial venues purchased live fireflies (wild-caught) for their exhibitions (map prepared by firefly conservation group, 萤火虫生态线)
“We have arranged a meeting with the fireflies… After a long disappearance, fireflies suddenly appeared … thousands of fireflies flying, shining in the dark, as bright as the stars,” announced a recent advertisement for MAG Universal Magic World, one amusement park located in the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.
During April 2017 this park hosted ten live firefly exhibitions. At each event, they displayed a few thousand fireflies, which were housed in glass bottles, shaken periodically to encourage flashing. Because each night many fireflies died, they were replaced with fresh ones.
In a single year, with similar large-scale exhibitions of live fireflies happening all over China (see map), the lights of several hundred thousand fireflies were permanently extinguished.
Staffer at MAG Universal Magic World in Guangzhou shakes captive fireflies to elicit flashing