Migrating monarch butterfly's winter sanctuary disappears from Mexico

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The Independent US

The realm of the monarch butterfly, which annually migrates from Canada to a reserve in the central Mexican mountains, is under threat because its winter sanctuary on the forested slopes of volcanoes is rapidly disappearing.

The realm of the monarch butterfly, which annually migrates from Canada to a reserve in the central Mexican mountains, is under threat because its winter sanctuary on the forested slopes of volcanoes is rapidly disappearing.

Scientists released a study this week that predicted the Mexican reserve, where clouds of these distinctive black and orange-winged creatures settle each November through to late March, would vanish completely within 50 years if clear-cut logging continues at the current rate. Already, 44 per cent of the protected area has been lost to unauthorised farming and tree-felling since 1971, an analysis of aerial photographs revealed last month.

In response, Mexico's environmental ministry has proposed to triple the primary zone set aside for these delicate insects since 1986, increasing it to a total of 216 square miles, despite complaints from local residents who must struggle for a livelihood. "The destruction is brutal," observed Mario Guillermo Huacuja, an environmental spokesman.

To compensate for lost in-comes, the ministry may buy logging rights from 1,500 poor villagers in the area and launch a training programme foralternative employment in tourism. An unnamed international agency had pledged a $5m trust fund to help implement the scheme, said Guillermo Castilleja of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

"I don't think it's ethically acceptable that in the name of conservation we limit access to resources on which these communities depend," he said. "We can't exclude them because we believe the region needs to be protected."

Monarch butterflies north of the border have embarked on their yearly 5000-mile autumn journey to Mexico, where they will cling to oyumel trees like fiery blossoms, until wingingnorth to lay eggs in April.

Their number has not yet dropped, although the crowded reserve has begun to alter migration patterns, and earlier spring departures may endanger eggs by exposing them to the cold.

Researchers in Iowa have also found that the caterpillars are seven times more likely to die from eating milkweed plants carrying pollen from genetically altered corn plants.

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