Two butterfly activists have been found dead in Mexico in less than a week.
The body of guide and conservationist Raúl Hernández Romero was found in the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Ocampo, Mexico on Friday, following the discovery of the body of activist Homero Gómez González the week before in a retention pond. Both activists showed signs of death by homicide via blunt force trauma.
El Rosario is a butterfly preserve famous for millions of monarch butterflies that spend the winter there at the end of their migration from the northern U.S. and Canada. But loggers and avocado farmers were also encroaching on the land and putting pressure on one of the largest butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico.
Gómez González was the preserve’s founder and clashed with the illegal logging interests. He preached that conservation was a more reliable source of income than logging and other forms of extraction, the AP reports. Hernández Romero was a popular guide at the preserve. It’s unclear at present whether the deaths are related, but Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the deaths could be tied to criminal organization. Prior to his death, Goméz González reportedly received death threats because of his attempts to protect land from logging. Groups like Amnesty International are demanding an investigation into both deaths.
Mexico’s murder rate hit a record high the past two years, but environmentalist activists have faced acute threats of death and violence. The organization Global Witness reported 15 Mexican environmentalist deaths in 2017 and 14 in 2018. Amnesty International reported at least 12 environmentalist deaths in Mexico in 2019’s first nine months. Environmental defenders in other countries have faced similar risks to protect land and ecosystems. A study in Nature Sustainability last year showed 684 people died defending the environment over the past 15 years, while another recent report shows women face “pervasive” violence when they stand up for the environment.
Gómez González will be remembered for his reforestation efforts and his ability to command crowds and raise awareness of the cause, as well as his fight against loggers other industry interests that put the butterflies at risk.
The monarch’s epic migration from the northern U.S. to northern Mexico takes them up to four generations over the course of a year. The pressures of deforestation in Mexico aren’t the only threat to the butterflies. Monarch wintering sites in California have noted record low counts of individuals for the past two years due to the destruction of milkweed. The Xerces Society conducts the annual surveys and called the 2018 results “disturbingly low.” There are signs the eastern population might be rebounding, but those numbers have yet to be re