Mexican butterfly sanctuaries: from ecomiracle to tourist draw

November 20th, 2011 - 12:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Angangueo (Mexico), Nov 20 (IANS/EFE) With the onset of fall, the biosphere reserve that straddles Mexico state and neighbouring Michoacan welcomes millions of monarch butterflies from Canada and the US looking for warmer climes, a miraculous migration that has now become a major tourist attraction.

The species begins its migration in September in the Great Lakes region of the US and finally lands at its hibernation site in Mexico between late October and early November.

Despite its fragility, the monarch butterfly soars between 2,000 and 4,500 km until it clusters in the forests of pine and sacred fir in the western state of Michoacan, sanctuaries where they will breed the next generation of the species.

One of these sanctuaries is in the Sierra Chincua mountains near the town of Angangueo, Michoacan state, “a cool, moist place, which is what they look for here”, one of the sanctuary caretakers, Francisco Ambrosio Martinez, told EFE.

The 63-year-old native of the area said that since the day he first opened his eyes, the butterfly was there.

The spectacle of hibernation turns the trees into huge swarms of butterflies that bend down the branches and make the paths into carpets where anyone walking through the evergreens must take extreme care to avoid stepping on them.

The incredible beauty of this phenomenon opened a new opportunity for the tourist business.

Specifically, the Sierra Chincua since last year has been provided with rest rooms, restaurants, handicraft stores, a cable car, and organized excursions on foot, bicycle or horseback that have made the spot a center of tourism.

“Three years ago Mexican President Felipe Calderon came here with his family and decided that the place ought to have an ecotourism hotel,” Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said while visiting the area this Thursday.

The secretary spoke with the community here and agreed to launch promotions to boost the number of visitors and bring the locals more business.

The challenge is to increase tourist activities while respecting the environment, and at the same time erase Michoacan’s image of violence currently generated by the organized crime gangs operating in the area.

As to the first, the secretary said that “the woods are in good condition” and as an example said that, according to the World Wildlife Fund, the cutting down of trees is 99 percent under control.

With the aim of protecting the area and the spectacle of the monarch butterflies, the authorities have ordered that butterfly-watching can only be done on authorized paths in guided groups of no more than 20 people each.

“It is our obligation to preserve the ecosystem. The National Protected Natural Areas Commission looks after this biosphere reserve as one of the 176 areas regulated that way nationwide,” Elvira Quesada said.

–IANS/EFE
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