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The phantom mountain, as viewed from Mount Tláloc. The phantom mountain, as viewed from Mount Tláloc.

Endemic rabbit threatened by weekend hordes of volcano gawkers

Over 3,500 scaled Mount Tláloc to view an annual phenomenon, damaging the animal's habitat

The massive influx of tourists to a México state national park each February to observe a phenomenon that involves a trio of volcanic peaks represents a threat to the habitat of the highly endangered volcano rabbit, says the Natural Protected Areas Commission  (Conanp).

More than 3,500 people climbed Mount Tláloc in the Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park last weekend to view the phenomenon known as montaña fantasma (phantom mountain) in which for a period of just 15 minutes at sunrise, the Malinche volcano in Tlaxcala, the Pico de Orizaba volcano in Veracruz and the Sierra Negra volcano in Puebla appear to merge on the horizon to form one continuous mountain range.

The phenomenon, which only occurs for five days each year in February, marked the start of the new year in central Mexico in pre-Hispanic times.

Visitor numbers to watch the montaña fantasma phenomenon from the peak of Mount Tláloc began to grow in 2012 and exploded in 2017 due to growing awareness generated by social media, the newspaper Milenio reported.

After last weekend’s influx, Conanp said that the large number of visitors damaged alpine grasslands inhabited by the volcano rabbit, a species endemic to Mexico known also as the teporingo or zacatuche.

The teporingo, the world’s second smallest rabbit after the pygmy, was declared extinct last year in the vicinity of the Nevado de Toluca, a volcano in México state.

Conanp also said that shrubs such as the long-living juniper, known as enebro azul, were trampled on and even used by visitors to make bonfires.

Amado Fernández, director of the Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl National Park, said that Mount Tláloc doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to receive the thousands of visitors that flocked there last weekend. In fact, it is only equipped to welcome a maximum of 200 visitors per day.

Fernández said that more needs to be done to distribute visitors across the five days during which the montaña fantasma can be observed.

While more than 2,000 witnessed the phenomenon on Saturday morning and approximately 1,500 did the same on Sunday, just 15 people were on the peak of the mountain on Wednesday, the final day in which the three volcanos appear to merge.

“Unfortunately, all the promotion … is for the weekend; that’s the problem we have,” Fernández said.

“So the invitation is to try to enjoy the phenomenon when there are less people at the site. … The most important thing is to conserve the ecosystems and all the biodiversity,” he said.

Source: Milenio (sp) 

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