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The butterfly aesthetics

By KIUNDU WAWERU | June 22nd 2012

Karura Forest is a mine of natural phenomena. Photographer Karue Wachira captures one of the wonders – the butterflies – and mounts a beautiful exhibition. KIUNDU WAWERU experienced the unique show

Karura Forest has undergone a metamorphosis. Gone are the days that they natural habitat was suffering from threats of being grabbed by unscrupulous politicians and investors to being a den of crime.

Today, the forest is one big, cool retreat centre, offering a sheltered, safe haven for many, with the added attraction of being so close to the city centre.


And as Karura morphs, an artist fittingly and perhaps unconscious of the symbolic meaning puts up an exhibition that features a creature that goes through different stages of life. The creature finally emerges, colourful wings fluttering beautifully.

The butterfly, an insect that over the years has been used artistically as a symbol expressing different meanings. It has been depicted in films and also it’s been a mythical creature in some countries.

The butterfly’s life cycle begins with an egg, then the caterpillar, pupa to the  imago – the colourful butterfly.

At one time, Karura was a safe haven for the Mau Mau warriors. In another time, the deceased professor Wangari Maathai was running battles with grabbers; later criminals found a den for their heinous acts. Recently, a diplomat’s wife seeked to rehabilitate the forest, and today it’s an educational centre, a retreat and a tourist destination.

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Nature trails

And recently photographer  Karue Macharia mounted a beautiful exhibition, The Butterflies of Karura Forest 2012, at the Former Shell BP Sports Club, now the Educational Environmental Centre.


The exhibition features eleven species. After taking the pictures, Karue went to the Kenya National Museums and they assisted him in the naming and classification.

There is the beautiful bright orange with black patches Common Leopard Fritillary (Phalanta Phalantha), the Dotted Borders (Mylothris sp) whose colour is a complete yellow with, as the name suggests, black patches on the borders of the wings, to the Narrow Green-Banded Swallowtail, a beautiful black butterfly with bands of sky-blue.

Early this year, Karue staked out with his camera at the Karura Forest, tranversing about a ten kilometres circuit. Karura Forest has about 50 kilometres of trails. He could see beauty and life in a small insect that most of us probably brush past, without much thought.

Like a fisherman who must be patient after casting his nets, or the lioness in the plains of Maasai Mara after an antelope, Karue waited. He had observed that butterflies flew away from the slightest distraction.

“I had to hang around for a long time for them to gain trust on me,” he says. He also realised that the butterflies would also land on people out taking the breeze at the Forest. 

“I realised if someone stayed calm in the butterfly’s environment, the butterflies would comfortably sit on them,” in this case, he snapped away, though these pictures are not included in the exhibition.


It has been scientifically documented that several species of butterflies need more sodium than that provided by the nectar and they are attracted to salt in the human sweat.

Karue initially wanted to make a calendar but he had completed the project in March, too late. He approached the Friends of Karura Forest, where he jogs every week, and they were too willing to host the exhibition.

Most people might fail to notice the raw aesthetics the colourful exhibition depicts. Indeed, the Chairman of the Friends of Karura Forest, Professor Karanja Njoroge notes in the comments book.

“Incredible photography! Amazing beauty unnoticed by a busy eye. Hongera bwana Karue, I will keep one for myself.” Karue has expressed himself over the years through different forms of art before.



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