Saving butterflies can be a dangerous business.
Raúl Hernández Romero, who worked as a guide at Mexico’s largest reserve for monarch butterflies in the state of Michoacán, was found dead last week. Romero had suffered “blunt blows on different parts of the body and a head injury, caused by a sharp object,” local authorities said.
The same week Homero Gomez Gonzalez, 55, another butterfly conservation, was also found dead in a retention pond in the same area. He had been hit on the head and died of drowning, local police said. Known as the Defender of the Monarch Butterfly, Gonzalez might have been murdered over his opposition to illegal logging in the protected area, according to a local human rights group.
It remains uncertain if the two deaths are connected, but evidence indicates they are. Michoacán is home to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site a two-hour drive from Mexico City. Each autumn up to a billion monarch butterflies migrate to the forested area, making an arduous journey from as far away as Canada, more than 3,000km away, so as to winter in Mexico.
“As of the winter of 2007-2008, there were twelve major colonies or sanctuaries of monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico, eight of these are located within the Biosphere,” UNESCO explains. “Perhaps a billion monarch butterflies land in close-packed clusters, bending tree branches by their weight, filling the sky when they take flight, and making a sound like light rain with the beating of their wings.”
Yet the state is also home to warring drug gangs that seek to control smuggling routes through often-arid terrain to the Pacific and the interior of the country, Reuters notes. Illegal loggers, too, have been taking a toll on local forests in a largely lawless area.
Nor is it only in Mexico where conservationists risk getting killed for protecting forests and endangered wildlife. Last November Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a 26-years-old indigenous Guajajara activist, was murdered in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve within an Amazon rainforest. He belonged to the local “Guardians of the Forest” group and was shot in the head during an ambush by loggers.
“We lost one warrior who protected life and the forest,” the indigenous group’s leader lamented. “He was cowardly murdered because of his work to defend life.”
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