A butterfly conservationist who disappeared earlier this month had been threatened by organized crime in México state, according to relatives, while Michoacán authorities say that Homero Gómez González’s family has received calls demanding a ransom for his safe return.
The head administrator at the El Rosario monarch butterfly sanctuary in Angangueo, Michoacán, was last seen in the neighboring municipality of Ocampo on January 13.
The Michoacán Attorney General’s Office (FGE) has been interrogating 53 police officers from both Angangueo and Ocampo this week in connection with the conservationist’s disappearance but there have been no formal arrests.
The newspaper La Jornada reported that family members of Gómez told a local media outlet that he had received threats from a criminal group in México state, which borders Angangueo, but no further information was offered.
Meanwhile, the Michoacán Human Rights Commission (CEDH) has urged authorities to investigate whether his disappearance is connected with his work as a butterfly activist, a theory ruled out by his family last week.
“He was probably hurting the [business] interests of people illegally logging in the area,” said commission official Mayte Cardona.
Many people who live near the El Rosario sanctuary believe that Gómez was likely kidnapped by loggers but an official with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas told The Washington Post that she didn’t believe that his disappearance was related to his conservation work.
“We think they are independent things,” Gloria Tavera said without citing an alternative theory.
Michoacán authorities have not publicly declared what they believe happened to Gómez but a spokeswoman for the FGE said “we can’t rule out any possibilities.”
Magdalena Guzmán revealed that the conservationist’s family has recently received calls demanding money for his return. The calls are being investigated, she said.
The Post reported that Gómez, described by the CEDH as “one of the main promoters and defenders of the sanctuaries that house the monarch butterfly in eastern Michoacán,” was once a logger himself and initially rejected calls for the practice to stop in order to preserve the habitat of the monarch butterfly, which overwinters in Mexico.
“We were afraid that if we had to stop logging, it would send us all into poverty,” he told the Post last month.
However, Gómez eventually came around to the view that preserving the monarchs would attract tourism to Angangueo and bring with it much-needed revenue. Laws first limited logging in the El Rosario sanctuary and then prohibited it completely. The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, of which El Rosario is part, is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
After his initial opposition to the ban on logging, Gómez became a strong advocate for the conservation of the habitat of the monarchs, which migrate thousands of kilometers each year to Mexico through the United States and Canada.
He collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund on its conservation projects and promoted tourism to El Rosario by posting videos of the butterflies to his personal Twitter account.
Donna Kelleher, a butterfly conservationist from Granbury, Texas, who has worked with Gómez told Mexico News Daily that “Homero Gómez González is a titan of conservation for the monarch butterfly,” explaining that his efforts have included planting one million oyamel trees, which are essential for the survival of the species.