Missing butterfly conservationist ‘may have been targeted by illegal loggers’ in Mexico

Peter Stubley
Homero Gomez Gonzalz

Fifty-three police officers have been hauled in for questioning over the disappearance of an environmental activist who ran a butterfly sanctuary in Mexico.

Homero ​Gómez Gonzalez, 50, was reported missing last week amid fears he had been targeted by criminal gangs and illegal loggers in the central state of Michoacán.

As the manager of the El Rosario reserve, he has led efforts to preserve the pine and fir forests where the monarch butterfly spends the winter.

Shortly before his disappearance he appeared in a video posted on his Twitter account to encourage tourists to visit the area.

Relatives of Mr Gómez told local media that he had been threatened by an organised crime gang.

And the Michoacán state human rights commission (CEDH) urged authorities to investigate whether his disappearance was linked to his conservation work.

“He was probably hurting the interests of people illegally logging in the area,” said CEDH official Mayte Cardona.

The CEDH called for the activist’s family to be given protection, describing him as “one of the main promoters and defenders of the sanctuaries that house the monarch butterfly in eastern Michoacán”.

Mr Gomez was last seen at about 7pm on 13 January in the town of El Soldado, Ocampo, and was reported missing the next day. More than 200 volunteers helped search for him, along with officials from the municipal police, land authority and security ministry.

On Monday evening the state attorney general announced that 29 local police officers from Ocampo and 24 from Angangueo had been called in for questioning but did not give further details.

“The investigation is continuing,” the prosecutor added.

Millions of monarchs make the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) migration from the US and Canada in September and October each year to spend the winter in the mountaintop pine and fir forests of Mexico.

The butterflies then return to the US and Canada in March, although with a lifespan of between two and six weeks no single butterfly lives long enough to make the complete journey

In an interview in November last year, Mr Gomez said the butterfly sanctuary had worked to eradicate the felling of trees and planted more than a million new firs and pines in four years.

Illegal logging, which was once a major threat to the reserves, has been cut by two-thirds since last year.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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