Two people with close links to a butterfly sanctuary in Mexico have been found dead in extremely violent and suspicious circumstances.
The body of Raúl Hernández, a tour guide at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán state, has been discovered just days after a prominent monarch butterfly activist, Homero Gómez González, was also found murdered.
González was last seen on January 13. He was found dead on January 29 in a water well in El Soldado, a town in the municipality of Ocampo, according to the Attorney General of the State of Michoacán. A necropsy showed he had suffered head trauma, but most likely died through "mechanical asphyxiation by submersion." The office later announced that Hernández was found dead on January 31 also in Ocampo with numerous body bruises and head trauma caused by a sharp object. No arrests have yet been made.
Perhaps you’re wondering why two people associated with butterfly conservation have become the victims of such grisly deaths?
Both men were involved in protecting the monarch butterfly’s wintering grounds from illegal logging. Towards the end of summer each year, adult monarch butterflies in North America undertake a huge journey to overwintering grounds in Central Mexico, as well as the west coast of California and Florida. González was an activist and manager working with Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site that’s a prime spot for monarch butterflies during the winter months. He had also tirelessly fought loggers over the past decade through public demonstrations and anti-logging patrols in the area.
Hernández's role is not as clear, although it's known he worked as a ranger at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
Unfortunately, conservation and environmentalism can be very dangerous. Environmental resources and land are a valuable commodity for crime syndicates or militia groups who are often in control of illegal mining, poaching, logging, and other sketchy business. Anyone who attempts to protect this land, thereby hampering the criminals' influence, is seen as a threat.
In 2018, at least 164 environmental activists were killed for doing their job, with many more injured, threatened, intimidated, arrested, or thrown in jail. Mexico alone was subject to at least 14 of these murders, ranking it as the 6th worst affected country in the world.
“UNESCO expresses its condolences and support to the families of the victims and wishes to acknowledge the courage and self-sacrifice shown by Mr Hernández and Mr Gómez in their struggle for the conservation of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve,” UNESCO said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The protection of this natural World Heritage is essential in response to the global climate crisis and is becoming more and more difficult every day.”