MEXICO CITY – Authorities are investigating the death of a part-time tour guide in one of Mexico’s largest butterfly sanctuaries – the second person connected to the reserve found dead in less than a week.
The body of Raúl Hernández Romero, 44, was found badly beaten with a sharp object on Saturday. The body of local politician Homero Gómez González, a well-known defender of the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán state was recovered last week after a two-week disappearance.
Hernández Romero was last seen Monday, Jan. 27, leaving his home in the municipality of Angangueo. His wife reported the disappearance to local authorities, who were then still searching for Gómez González.
Officials said they were uncertain of any connection between the two deaths, or between their deaths and their work in environmental conservation.
For years, illegal loggers tied to Mexico’s criminal underworld have clashed with conservationists who tried and eventually succeeded to ban logging from the butterfly sanctuaries in the state of Michoacán.
Between 2005 and 2006, 461 hectares in the region were lost to illegal logging. The destruction threatened the world’s largest butterfly migration.
Gómez González, a former logger himself, spoke out against the threat of illegal timber. Millions of butterflies travel thousands of miles from the United States and Canada each year to winter on a few hillsides in Michoacán, a spectacle that draws thousands of tourists annually.
Gómez González, a former commissioner of the small community of Rosario, and other local leaders argued that tourism could produce a more sustainable revenue stream than logging. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
Hernández Romero was one of the men who showed Mexican and foreign tourists around the Rosario sanctuary. He pointed out the massive clusters of monarchs that hung from oyamel trees and scattered in an orange cloud when they were touched by the morning light.
Magdalena Guzmán, a spokeswoman for the Michoacán attorney general’s office, said authorities were “looking into several lines of investigation” in the deaths of the two men, including their connections to the butterfly sanctuary.
Gómez González’s death sent a shock wave through the community of environmentalists in Mexico and beyond. For many, it underscored the risks involved in activism in Mexico, where organized crime and conservation are often at odds.
Gómez González’s body was found at the bottom of a well Wednesday. Hundreds of farmers and agricultural workers attended his funeral Friday, The Associated Press reported.
So far, authorities say, no evidence links his death to his work defending the monarchs.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador called Gonzalez’s death “very unfortunate and painful.”
The cause of Romero’s death is also unclear. Many here doubt the crimes will ever be solved.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, 154,557 people were killed in Mexico between 2010 and 2016. There were convictions in fewer than 6% of those cases.
“All of these losses are horrible,” said Gloria Tavera, the regional director for the commission of national protected areas. “All of these people are important.”