Inside the Murky World of Butterfly Catchers

For those who capture and trade the delicate insect, the rules are intricate and the prize is mesmerizing.

It can be a treacherous thing, hunting this particular butterfly.

The peacock swallowtail, Papilio blumei, lives only here, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and only at a certain altitude. Its mountain home is a steep rock covered with a thin layer of wet earth, where every handhold and step sends away a small mudslide. And somewhere along the way, between the valley and the peak, an economy becomes clear: This is why some butterflies are valuable. This is why there’s a black market for the rare ones.

The hunter, a man named Jasmin Zainuddin, stops a moment. He carries a stick that he uses to prod the mud, testing it. “Only a little bit higher,” he says.

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