by adamcotton » Wed Nov 29, 2023 9:58 am
Here is the text of the interesting obituary from The Telegraph, for those who cannot access it:
Colin Smith, maths teacher who became an authority on the butterflies of Nepal – obituary
He spent the last six decades of his life in the Asian republic, where he was known as ‘Putali Baje’, or ‘Butterfly Grandpa’
9 November 2023 • 6:00am
Colin Smith, who has died aged 87, travelled to Nepal aged 29 to teach mathematics, science and English and stayed on to become an authority on the country’s butterflies.
Nepal is one of the best places in the world to see butterflies. Of the 17,500 or so known species, 660 are found in Nepal, of which 20 are on the endangered list. Smith dedicated more than 50 years to their study, publishing numerous research papers and several books and becoming known by locals as “Putali Baje” (“Butterfly Grandpa”).
Colin Philip Smith was born on November 24 1936 in Highgate, north London, to Ebenezer Smith and Rose, née Boosey. As a boy he often visited an uncle whose collection of butterflies and moths sparked an interest which he pursued during school holidays at Boy Scout summer camps.
After taking a BSc in mathematics at Imperial College London, followed by an MSc at University College, he became a teacher, and in 1966 volunteered to serve with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN), a venture involving a number of Christian groups. “I was told that alongside teaching, I needed to have a hobby, too,” he recalled. “I told them that I collected butterflies.” The UMN suggested that he make a collection from Nepal to bring back home.
Instead he decided to stay, and while teaching at a school in Pokhara he met Dorothy Merow, a fellow teacher who had started a small natural history museum and who persuaded him to collect butterflies for it.
After seven years’ teaching Smith decided to devote himself full-time to butterflies. His rare visits to England thereafter included a trip in 1976 to the Saruman Museum (aka the National Butterfly Museum) to learn the latest techniques for handling specimens.
Back in Nepal, he started writing for local natural history journals and in 1989 published his first major study, Butterflies of Nepal (Central Himalaya). His initial goal was to collect specimens of all the 660 species of butterflies found in Nepal with a view to publishing a comprehensive checklist; later, however, he turned to capturing butterflies with a digital camera. His Illustrated Checklist of Nepal’s Butterflies was published in 1995.
In the early 2000s Smith began working mostly on Nepal’s far more numerous moth species, travelling round the country with a fluorescent bulb and a white sheet, collecting specimens for Kathmandu University. Other publications include Lepidoptera of Nepal (2010) and A Photographic Pocket Guide to Butterflies of Nepal, In Natural Habitat (2011).
For many years Smith lived with the family of a Nepali fellow lepidopterist near Pokhara, but in 1995 he bought a small plot of land nearby and built himself a tiny one-room cottage. Last year he was reported to be living on a British pension of £175 a month along with an elderly allowance of 4,000 Nepalese rupees (around £24.50). “I was maybe the richest man in Pokhara in my prime,” he reflected, “But now I’m probably the poorest.”
In 1995 he made the first of several attempts to be granted Nepalese citizenship, but it was only in 2019, after friends organised a petition, and after Smith had been ill for several years, that the government finally responded, and he became the third foreigner, after Sir Edmund Hillary and Toni Hagen (the first foreigner to travel throughout Nepal), to be granted honorary citizenship.
Nepal is now struggling with the social and environmental costs of mass tourism, but in an interview last year Smith recalled that when he first arrived, there were “hardly any roads, let alone vehicles. Only one foreigner had a bicycle.”
Other than a brother living in New Zealand, Smith had no other close relatives. His wish was to have his ashes scattered on the Seti River that flows down from the Annapurna mountains.
Colin Smith, born November 24 1936, died November 4 2023