A tribute to “The King of Monarchs”- Homero Gómez González

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“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century, he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Only a few distinguished people understand the importance of conserving this planet to ensure the human race continues to thrive. Among them was Homero Gómez González, who was found dead two weeks after he was reported as missing.

Eric Holst rightly tweeted regarding this incident, “Never did I imagine protecting butterflies would be life-threatening.” And to be honest, no one would have imagined this.

When I was informed about Mr Gómez by one of my friends, curiosity took my toll, and I decided to read further about him.

This was a blessing in disguise. As It allowed me to venture deeper into environmental activism only to discover some disturbing truths. Which will be revealed in the end.

Who was Homero Gómez González.

A file photo of Homero Gómez Gonzáles. Art courtesy of Stephany Torres

Homero Gómez González was a Mexican politician, environmental activist and a tireless campaigner for conserving the monarch butterfly in the pine and fir forests where it hibernates.

For years, Mr Gómez had been the leading defender of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site. In addition, he was the manager of El Rosario butterfly sanctuary, which is part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Mr Gomez originally belonged to a family of a logger. When the government of Mexico decided to declare their logging area as a butterfly reserve, he was among the people who protested against this move.

In one of his interviews given to the Post, Mr Gomez said, “We were afraid that if we had to stop logging, it would send us all into poverty.”

So, initially, he was doubtful about the idea of conservation. Still, eventually, he saw the potential for tourism in the sanctuary and started working towards it.

After long years of efforts and convincing the people, Mr Gomez ultimately persuaded others to abandon logging and protect butterfly habitats encouraging tourism to replace the lost income.

Thus he started working with conservationists and scientists worldwide, posting videos of himself in a cloud of monarchs, capturing beautiful scenes that one can only imagine. Through His social media posts and videos, he encouraged visitors to witness this magic.

And he was right. This magical migratory phenomenon of monarchs butterfly was a tourist hotspot with some 300,000 tourists visiting it in pre-pandemic times.  Thus people in that area could earn some 2000$ in 3 months during the tourist season, which is far more than 3000$ a year, which they could make due to other activities.

Speculations surrounding the death of Mr Gomez.

Michocan and Avocado Picture credits@ Josue Soto & Louis hansel

While the authorities have remained mum, hiding and have not yet declared his death as pre-mediated murder, the truth can be seen on the face of it. Mr Gomez was at the centre of conserving and promoting environmental protection in the Michoacán province of Mexico, famous for its notorious criminal gangs, international trafficking route, and exploitable pine and fir forests.

Michoacán also has the distinction of being the Avocado capital of the world. This Avocado trade is worth $2.4 billion annually. It pays workers 12 times Mexico’s minimum wage and offers higher profit margins to local landowners.

With the increasing consumption of avocados in the USA, whose 87% requirements came from Mexico, and most from Michoacán, the demand for avocados is on the rise. As a result, the avocado business attracts a lot of money, especially for criminals looking for safer alternatives to the drug trade.

Termed as the ‘green gold’, Avocado farming is causing massive scale destruction of forest, wildlife and depleting the natural aquifers to meet its growing demand. Read in detail about the severe detrimental effects of Avocado farming here.

Thus plagued by grinding poverty and gang violence, butterfly reserve faced twin threats from illegal logging and encroaching plantations of avocados. This has ensured wars among cartels trying to monopolize the timber & avocado trade, capturing more areas for their plantation.

Mr Gómez González, the heart of conserving the forests and environment, made enemies everywhere, protesting and speaking against destroying natural habitats.

He was often heard speaking that the challenges he faced as he tried to protect the habitats of the butterflies were real and dangerous. “It’s been a fight to maintain it,” he said. “And it hasn’t been easy.”

The Great Reveal.

Picture Credits@ John Cameron

While researching for this article, what came as a more shocking fact and is indeed stressing to know is a large number of deaths of environmental activists around the globe.

A record number of activists numbering 227 working to protect the environment and land rights were murdered last year in 2020. Moreover, according to the NGO Global Witness, this is the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year, with 2019 witnessing 212 deaths

With activists claiming that the actual death toll is likely much higher than visible since many cases go unreported. With people being killed for protecting natural resources that need to be preserved, including forests, water supplies and oceans, one can imagine the hypocrisy of our times.

Scandalous incidents like the cold-blooded murder of South African Fikile Ntshangase, a 65 years old environmental activist shot dead in her own living room. The mysterious murder of Mr Gomez shed light on the world we are living in today.

On the one hand, governments worldwide make lofty commitments for protecting the environment showcasing glamorous reports on work done. But, on the other hand, they simply fail to protect their own citizens.

It is even more shameful that these people are killed by the same species of animals, the so-called ” Homo sapiens” whose future they are trying to secure.

The Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterflies possess two pairs of brilliant orange-red wings, featuring black veins that instantly come to our mind when someone talks about butterflies.

These butterflies, which weigh less than a gram, journey around 2,800 miles from the USA and Canada to central Mexican forests.

It is here in these forests that the butterflies hibernate and metamorphize. Each adult butterfly lives only about four to five weeks.

Therefore, monarchs need a considerable population to be resilient to severe weather events, pesticides, and climate change threats.

We need to preserve these butterflies, as they are an essential part of the ecosystem that helps pollinate the forests and thus maintains the fragile ecological balance.

Furthermore, Monarch butterflies have plummeted by 80 per cent in the past 20 years. The yearly count of these butterflies in 2020 shows an even more dramatic decrease of 53% from the previous year’s, which scientists predict could collapse their migration, threatening the forest ecosystem.

By Yash Arya

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