Monarch butterflies doomed after activists’ death

The annual migration of monarch butterflies from the US and Canada is one of the most resplendent sights in the natural world – a rippling orange-and-black wave containing millions of butterflies fluttering instinctively southward to escape the winter cold.

The spectacle when they reach their destination in central Mexico is perhaps even more astonishing. Patches of alpine forest turn from green to orange as the monarchs roost in the fir trees, the sheer weight of butterflies causing branches to sag to the point of snapping. Tens of thousands of the insects bounce haphazardly overhead, searching replenishment from nearby plants.

To witness this sight is as if to enter a waking dream. “People have a spiritual and emotional connection to monarchs,” said Sonia Altizer, a monarch butterfly researcher at the University of Georgia. “Many people tell me that seeing them was a highlight of their life.”

The recent deaths of two butterfly conservationists in the region has, however, drawn attention to a troubling tangle of disputes, resentments and occasional bouts of harrowing violence that has lingered over the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a sprawling world heritage site situated 60 miles north-west of Mexico City.

Those concerns were further heightened this week after the death of a part-time tour guide from another nearby butterfly sanctuary, called Raúl Hernández Romero. His body was found 1 February with injuries possibly inflicted by a sharp object.

“The panorama for the community, the forest and the monarch butterflies is now very complicated and uncertain,” Amado Gómez González, one of Gómez’s nine siblings, told the Guardian.

“There are now these two crimes and it has spread fear. You find yourself thinking ‘What if this is a group that is coming to try and take the sanctuary away from us?”

Investigations into the two deaths are ongoing. But some conservationists fret they are a byproduct of the violence that has long troubled the state of Michoacán, which stretches from the mountains of central Mexico to the west coast.

The Mazatlan Post