Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Overwintering Monarch Butterflies


On February 26, we made a special pilgrimage – to see the over-wintering Monarch butterflies high in the mountains of MichoacanMexico. The day began serenely at the lovely Agua Blanca canyon-side spa inn in Jungapeo, at an elevation of 4,850 feet above sea level. Gundi started her morning with a long swim in the mineral-rich pool waters, which she says took away the aches and pains of years. In Chris and Allan’s rented Jeep we climbed 5,000 feet via the town of Angangueo to the butterfly-viewing base at El Rosario. This is part of a 56,000-hectare sanctuary for the mariposas monarcas (of which the butterflies only inhabit a fraction), declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 2008.  From here, it was an hour’s steep climb in thin air another few hundred feet to close to the summit at over 10,000 feet. It is here that millions of monarchs cluster high in the oyamel fir trees, making forays in the sunshine to find water and food from the plentiful forest flowers. On mostly cloudy mornings such as we experienced, the butterflies are lethargic in starting their day, so action on the wing was tempered. Nonetheless, the sight of so many monarchs freely finding their ancestral annual winter home was a mesmerizing one to behold.  With a hundred or so fellow “pilgrims” watching on quietly in awe, this was a profound  and moving spiritual experience, with Nature playing out for a whole species. 

Monarch butterflies are severely threatened by a number of challenges, all of which are brought on by humanity’s greed and over-reach. Their habitat across their summer feeding and breeding grounds in Canada and the United States, their migration route to the southern states and Mexico, and their over-wintering forests all need ongoing vigilant protection from toxic pesticides, desert-like monocultures, development, mining, and logging in order for their current numbers to be sustained and increased. They are highly dependent on the milkweed with which they have a symbiotic relationship across these vast territories. Our relationship with them has to be symbiotic too, as they pollinate wild flowers, bring us beauty and joy, and as we continue efforts to conserve them as a fellow species. They need us as we need them.