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Butterfly sanctuary hit by double blow

March 13, 2012

Blighted by adverse weather and security fears, Michoacan’s Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary has suffered a one-third drop in visitors: both human and insect.

 The number of butterflies migrating to the biosphere reserve in Jalisco’s neighbor state is down by as much as 30 percent this year, according to analysts from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas.

The number of orange and black butterflies spending the winter months in Michoacan’s 56,259-hectare reserve has declined over the past five years due to several factors, including increased use of herbicides, the threat of natural predators and, most importantly, extreme weather conditions.

“Sometimes there are droughts or adverse weather conditions for the reproduction of the butterfly in the United States and Canada. In this case the number of butterflies that arrive in Mexico is already depleted,” said Felipe Martinez, deputy director of the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary.

The reserve is also facing problems of a different nature. Heightened security warnings by the U.S. State Department regarding travel in Michoacan have seen the number of visitors drop by 33 percent.

Some areas of the state have suffered a rise in drug-related violence in recent years and the latest warning from the U.S. government suggests tourists “defer non-essential travel to the state of Michoacan except the cities of Morelia and Lazaro Cardenas.”

Such warnings “definitely affect us and this is reflected in the number of visitors coming to the reserve each year, where around 20 or 30 percent used to be foreign tourists,” said Martinez. “On average there were over 150,000 visitors and today we have trouble reaching 100,000.”

There have been no reported incidents of violence in the sanctuary and the survival rate of human visitors is far better than that of their butterfly counterparts. Each winter between 60 million and one billion monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to Michoacan and the State of Mexico.

Remarkably, no butterfly ever makes the entire round-trip, as their lifespans vary from just two to seven months. The newborn butterflies make the return journey north to the same sites as their ancestors from pure instinct.

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