DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In Mexico, a well-known advocate for the monarch butterfly has disappeared. He is the latest of dozens of environmental and human rights activists who have been disappeared or murdered over the last year. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, advocates fear the latest victim ran afoul of criminal gangs.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Homero Gomez Gonzalez has long been a champion of the monarch butterflies.
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HOMERO GOMEZ GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: His Twitter feed is full of videos like this one of him inviting visitors to the El Rosario Reserve, high in the protected fir and pine forests where the monarchs spend their winters, and where Gomez Gonzalez has for years been the manager.
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GOMEZ GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Wearing his official blue vest with hundreds of the orange and black insects flying around him, Gomez Gonzalez proclaims the monarchs humanity's heritage. Their thousand-mile migration from Canada and the U.S. to Mexico is one of nature's most compelling and complex. It can take up to five generations for the monarch to complete the annual trek.
But the butterfly's population has been decimated in recent decades due to everything from climate change to illegal logging of their habitat in Mexico. Mayte Cardona of the Michoacan State Human Rights Commission says authorities must thoroughly investigate Gomez Gonzalez's disappearance.
MAYTE CARDONA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She says her commission has made it clear to authorities that it should be a priority to see whether Gomez Gonzalez's conservation work got in the way of criminal gangs. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, Magdalena Guzman, says all angles will be investigated.
MAGDALENA GUZMAN: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She says 53 local police officers were called in for questioning, but she wouldn't elaborate why. She did say that family members paid a ransom, but Gomez Gonzalez's whereabouts are still unknown. Michoacan is one of Mexico's most dangerous states, with constant feuds between drug cartels fueling record homicide rates. Homero Aridjis, one of Mexico's most famous poets and a longtime environmental activist, points to a new threat - cartels clear-cutting in the butterfly reserve to grow clandestine avocado orchards.
HOMERO ARIDJIS: And all my life, adult life, I have visited the sanctuaries. And every day, every year, it's worse and worse and worse.
KAHN: Aridjis, who has known Gomez Gonzalez for years, hopes he will be found alive, but is skeptical given the high number of crimes that go unsolved in Mexico. This impunity is the reason why environmental activists and human rights defenders keep coming under attack, says Tania Reneaum of Amnesty International Mexico.
TANIA RENEAUM: It's dangerous. It's life threatening. It's very sad.
KAHN: Last year, her group registered 24 murders of activists, including a defender of howler monkeys in Tabasco state and an outspoken opponent of a thermoelectric plant in Morelos. Poet Homero Aridjis says, without activists, Mexico's wildlife doesn't stand a chance.
ARIDJIS: How could you protect the butterflies if these (unintelligible) people are not protected?
KAHN: You have to protect the protectors, he says. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.