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Mexican President Vows to Protect Sacred Butterfly Trees

ANGANGUEO, Michoacán, Mexico, November 26, 2007 (ENS) – President Felipe Calderon visited the Sierra Chincua monarch butterfly reserve in the mountains of central Mexico on Sunday to announce his plan to enhance and publicize the reserve.

Under the new program, the Calderon government will spend $4.6 million to buy additional equipment and advertising for the reserve, which is protected by Mexico and also internationally under the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program.
Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, in Canada during the summer.

“This nature reserve annually receives millions of butterflies that come to spend the winter in our ancient sacred firs after a journey of over 4,000 kilometers from Canada to Mexico,” said President Calderon.

For the Purepecha Indians, said Calderon, “the butterflies’ stay meant the essence of the dead, because the butterflies used to arrive around the time of the Day of the Dead and for the Otomí and Mazahua, they represented the spirit of the harvest, because the harvest ended when the Monarch butterfly arrived.”

“These butterflies, which attract thousands of tourists, are regarded as one of Mexico’s natural wonders and this season, we hope to receive 230,000 tourists, which is actually quite few,” said the president.

About $36.4 million in government funding already comes to the butterfly reserve each year to support a team of park rangers who attempt to protect the trees favored by the butterflies from armed groups of lumber thieves.

The Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation and the World Wildlife Fund say these efforts have resulted in a 48 percent drop in illegal logging, compared to last year. “We’re gaining ground in the fight against illegal logging,” Calderon said.

Monarch butterflies have one of the world’s most unusual migration patterns. Every September, millions of the black-and-orange insects fly 3,400 miles from their breeding grounds in the forests of eastern Canada and parts of the eastern United States to the mountains of Mexico where they seek the same locations their forebears once inhabited.
Monarch butterflies cluster on trees in the Mexican mountains. (Photo credit unknown)

There they gather in 10 to 13 colonies in the Oyamel fir, Abies religiosa, forests of Mexico. Oyamel firs grow only at high altitudes, between 2,400 and 3,600 meters above sea level.

In late March, the monarchs return to U.S. and Canada where they breed up to five generations before heading back to Mexico. A typical butterfly will make just one migration during its lifetime. Some monarchs do not travel the entire migration route but reproduce and die along the way. Their offspring continue the flight.

President Calderon announced Sunday that his government is working with the United Nations to have the monarch butterfly area recognized as a World Heritage Site, a result “which we hope to achieve soon,” he said.

The World Heritage Convention is administered by UNESCO, lists 851 sites around the world that are protected as being of special natural value to all humankind.

President Calderon promised help for the community of Agangueo where the butterfly reserve is located. “We will be working very closely with the people of Agangueo, not only to help them solve their development problems, but also so that Angangueo can be reinforced as one of the magical towns of Mexico and attract more tourism,” he said.

Today, Mexico has over 670,000 hectares of nature reserves, said the president, “and we are advancing towards our goal of over three million hectares in nature reserves by the end of my government.”

The president met with Governor Elect of Michoacan Leonel Goday on Sunday after the state’s Electoral Institute submitted written proof that he had obtained a majority in the elections.

During the meeting, the president repeated his government’s willingness to work for the development of the state and raise the living standards of the residents of Michoacán.

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