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April 7, 2020

Monarch butterfly activist found dead as illegal loggers continue to cut down sanctuary trees

Homero Gómez González
Homero Gómez González was a former logger who worked to encourage others to protect Monarch butterfly wintering grounds.

Renowned environmental activist Homero Gómez González, 50, dedicated his life to try to save the forests where Monarch butterflies overwinter. What a noble cause, but unfortunately, his fight put him in the crosshairs of criminal gangs that are involved in illegal logging.

The Guardian reports that González’s body was found floating in a well on Wednesday near the mountain forest reserve he protected. Fellow activists suspect he was killed as a result of illegal logging disputes. His body showed no signs of violence, and prosecutors are investigating.

“Something strange is happening because they’re finishing off all the activists, the people who are doing something for society,” said Amado Gomez, the dead man’s brother.

A former logger, Gómez managed the El Rosario butterfly reserve, at a Unesco World Heritage Site, in the town of Ocampo in Michoacán state. The site is the temporary home for millions of monarch butterflies that migrate from the U.S. each year. The butterflies cover fir and pine trees, creating an otherworldly experience for tourists who visit the preserve.

As many as 60,000 people have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, reports the BBC.

“Gómez González’s death comes as the murder rate continues to surge in a country where environmental defenders, human rights workers, and community activists are routinely targeted for their work,” reported the Guardian.

González had only recently opened the sanctuary but had worked for over a decade to try to keep loggers out of the area. To do so, he led marches and anti-logging patrols, as well as worked with about 260 landowners to replant trees in areas deforested for growing corn.

Gómez was a tireless campaigner for the conservation of the monarch butterfly and the pine and fir forests where it hibernates. The sanctuary he managed opened in November as part of a strategy to stop illegal logging in the area, which is a key habitat for the monarch butterfly,” reports the BBC.

In his last videos on Twitter, he appears standing in a beautiful cloud of butterflies.

“Come and see this marvel of nature! [The butterflies] are lovers of the sun, the souls of the dead,” González says in the video below.

Now other activists fear that the Monarch butterfly preserves may be lost forever.

“A lot of the communal landowners fear that with his death, the forests are finished,” said Amado Gómez.
“I would like to ask the authorities to do their job and do more to protect activists like my brother because lately in Mexico, a lot of activists have died,” he said. “With his death, not only my family lost a loved one, but the whole world, and the monarch butterfly and the forests lost, too.”

There has been an outpouring of grief following the activist’s death as environmentalists say more has to be done to stop illegal logging, one of the most lucrative environmental crimes, according to Ali Hines of Global Witness.

Ancient legends of the Monarch

Now Homero Gómez González will always be remembered with the wings of Monarch butterflies. Indigenous legends from ancient times consider the butterflies as souls of the dead. They represented important people and heroes who had died, appearing on the headdresses and shields of the Aztecs.

The goddess of happiness, fertility, and flowers, known as Xochiquetzal, appeared with the body and wings of a butterfly. Monarch butterflies were known as “daughter of the sun” to the Masahuas people.

Interestingly, the Monarchs start arriving in their sanctuaries on the 2nd of November, the “Day of the Dead.”


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube

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