Tag Archives: El Rosario

MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROTECTORS MURDERED

Many friends have written with questions about the death of Homero Gómez González, and now a second Monarch Butterfly conservationist Raúl Hernández Romero, has also been found murdered. The deaths have been widely reported by the BBC, NYTimes, Washington Post, and many other news media. These are tragic events taking place in the desperately poor state of Michoacán, where the people who commit these crimes have nothing much to lose. The problems in these districts are many-layered and complex.

Homero Gómez González

I can only speak to our own experience traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Michoacán and the State of Mexico. On our trip last March, Tom and I stayed at the beautiful inn, JM Monarch Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, located in sleepy Macheros. JM Butterfly is owned and operated by husband and wife team Joel Rojas Moreno and Ellen Sharp. Macheros is a rural hamlet, called a ‘ranchita,’ with a population of more horses to people. Macheros is sited at the base of an old volcanic mountain, Cerro Pelon, which is located in the State of Mexico.

Cerro Pelon is the mountain where the butterflies were first located by outsiders. The villagers knew of the Monarchs annual return, but it was a mystery to the rest of the world where the Monarchs wintered over.

We felt safe every moment of our time at Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B. So safe that I went for long walks through the town filming and taking photos, on my own, and often left my handbag unattended  when socializing with fellow guests at dinner and in the common areas of the Inn .

Later this month I am posting a video interview with Ellen and Joel where we discuss safety issues, but it is well worth noting the following at this point in time when so much attention has been drawn to the region. Some states, cities, and towns in Mexico are more  prone to violence than other areas, just as we find in different regions of the US. Basing a decision to travel to Cerro Pelon on what happens in Michoacán is like saying I am not going to travel to Beverly Hills because of the gang violence that takes place in Emeryville.

I absolutely love Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B and hope to return very soon. We also can’t wait until our granddaughter is just a wee bit older so we can take a family trip there. I write older only for the reason that she will remember how memorable an experience.

Conversely, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at El Rosario is located in the state of Michoacán, where gang violence poses a greater threat. Homero Gómez González was a manager at El Rosario,  a former logger himself, and he campaigned to protect the reserve. Raúl Hernández Romero was also an environmentalist and tour guide. It is tragic that the defense of the exquisite and productive forest habitats of the Monarch Biosphere Reserves turns activists into victims of threats and persecution and that Monarch protectors González and Romero have paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

I traveled to El Rosario, in 2014, and again in March of 2019. This last trip we were with a small group sponsored by JM Butterfly and both trips, the one taken in 2014 and the one in 2019, we were perfectly safe and well looked after by our guides. The majority of the visitors to El Rosario are international tourists and Mexican families, respectively, making first time visits and annual pilgrimages. You will see the very youngest babies being strolled along the paths to the very oldest grannies hobbling along with walking sticks, and everyone in between.

El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere

Rural communities throughout Mexico are developing, some more rapidly than others.  We can do a great deal to help the local economy by continuing to visit these beautiful but impoverished areas and the wonderful people you will meet there, to treasure the unspoiled habitats and wildlife you will find there, and to spend our tourist dollars generously.  We live in a time with growing environmental awareness, but also a time with increasing anti-environment animus, largely generated by the current US federal government’s devastating anti-environment policies.

González was missing for two weeks before his body was recovered at the bottom of a holding pond in an agricultural area. Prosecutors in Michoacán say an autopsy found that the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxiation by drowning of a person with head trauma.”

Raúl Hernández Romero, who had worked as a tour guide in the preserve went missing last Monday. His body was found bruised, his head showing trauma from a sharp object.

Mourners lower the coffin of community activist Homero Gómez González into a grave at a hillside cemetery in Ocampo, Mexico, on Friday. PHOTO: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

 

New Film: Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel

Horses neigh, bugs crawl across the lens, and Monarchs flutter in the background —interview on the mountaintop and it was all beautiful! Video includes footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel, filmed at the summit of the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Angangueo, Mexico.

This was Tom’s 40th trip to Angangueo to study the Monarchs. In this interview, he provides some historical perspective from those very first trips to the remote Oyamel fir forests atop the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains. We learn how scientists count millions of Monarchs. Tom discusses the state of the Monarch migration today and why it is in crisis.

Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida, Gainesville. Additional footage shot at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve and at the base of Sierra Chincua.

Monarch Expedition: Part One ~ Angangueo Michoacán, Mexico

Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014

After the four-hour drive from Mexico City, across a wide canyon of rustic farmland and over and around volcanic mountains, we arrived in the early evening at the beautiful town of Angangueo. Pitched on a steep mountainside, the narrow streets and closely packed buildings with shared stucco walls immediately reminded me of southern European villages. Especially lovely were the modest and many handmade outdoor altars gracing townspeople’s homes and gardens.

Angangueo is located in the far eastern part of the state of Michoacán in the central region of Mexico within the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. During the late 1700s minerals were discovered.  Large deposits of silver, gold, copper, and iron ore brought a rush of people to the area. Today, Angangueo is noted as home to two of the most beautiful Monarch Butterfly Biospheres, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua.

Altar Angangueo mexico ©Kim Smith 2014

Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014Our guesthouse, the Hotel Don Bruno, was utterly charming. As with many of the buildings we passed on the way to Angangueo, a cheery row of glazed terra cotta pots brimming with red and pink geraniums lined the hotel entrance. Through the entryway door and past the front office, guests entered the beautiful inner courtyard garden. All the rooms faced into the courtyard and mine had a delightfully fragrant sunny yellow rose just outside the door. I quickly changed for dinner to meet my fellow travelers in the hotel’s second floor dining room. A long dining table arranged family style, running the length of the room, had been set up for our group, with a view onto the flowering courtyard below.

Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo © Kim Smith 2014.As he did that evening, and every dinner and breakfast, Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López had prepared an elegant feast of many different entrees, mostly native Mexican dishes, including and combining a fabulous array of local fruits and vegetables. The proprietors and hotel staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.

Dinner was followed by a discussion led by Dr. Emmel. Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which is part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. He is also a professor of zoology and entomology and the author of 35 books (more about Dr. Emmel in the next installment). I recorded several of Dr. Emmel’s lectures and an interview atop the Sierra Chincua Biosphere and will be posting all on youtube.

Mural Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014Mural in the town plaza

At daybreak the following morning, I climbed the central outdoor stairwell to the top of the hotel to film the sleepy town awakening. Roosters crowed and the hotel’s freshly washed and drying sheets whipped to the wind in the crisp mountain air. The morning light did not disappoint. Kitty corner across from my rooftop vantage point was one of the small town’s several churches, with a walled courtyard and red and white banners fluttering in the breeze. The village’s main road leads further up to the mountains and is lined with red tiled roofed-homes and sidewalks swept immaculately clean. The sun was just beginning to peek through the mountains when I had to leave to hurry down to breakfast.

Angangueo ©Kim Smith 2014

Despite the beauty and well-kept appearance of Angangueo, and especially of our charming guesthouse, the town and the Hotel Don Bruno were nearly empty of tourists. Reports of mayhem and murder in Michoacán have drastically reduced the number of people traveling to Angangueo to see the Monarchs at the biospheres.

The gang violence is taking place on the far western side of Michoacán, near the Pacific Coast. Angangueo is located on the far eastern side of the state, bordering the state of Mexico. Not traveling to Angangueo for that reason is as uninformed as if someone decided not to travel to San Francisco because of the gang violence that takes place in Los Angeles! The people of Angangueo have stopped logging to protect the Monarch’s habitat and have come to rely heavily on income from tourism. I was deeply saddened to see the lack of visitors, at this time of year especially, when the Monarchs are at their peak activity at the colonies.

San Simón Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014San Simon Parish Church

Inmaculada Concepcíon ©Kim Smith 2014Inmaculada Concepcíon

Next installment: Day 1 at the Monarch Colony