Three alleged murders among five recent deaths of note
The butterfly guys
OCAMPO, Mexico––Monarch butterfly conservationists Homero Gómez González, 50, and Raúl Hernández Romero, 44, were found dead on January 29, 2020 and February 1, 2020, respectively, at the El Rosario butterfly preserve that they helped to found and develop in Michoacan state, Mexico.
González, reported missing on January 14, 2019, “was found in a small agricultural reservoir,” reported Mark Stevenson of Associated Press.
The pond, on land adjoining property where Gómez González was last seen at a party also attended by local elected officials, “is approximately 32 feet square and 20 feet deep, but was only about half full of water,” Stevenson said.
“Michoacan state prosecutors said that an initial review indicated a drowning and found no signs of trauma, but more detailed autopsy results produced evidence of a head injury,” Stevenson recounted. “Authorities gave no other information on the injury and did not say how it might have been inflicted. They said an investigation continued, suggesting the case wasn’t considered an accident.”
“Beaten with a sharp object”
Just a day after Gómez González’ funeral, added Common Dreams staff writer Julia Conley, “The body of Raúl Hernández Romero was found at the top of a hill in the El Rosario butterfly sanctuary. Hernández’s family told the BBC that before he disappeared on January 27, 2020,” after leaving his home to go to work as usual as a part-time sanctuary tourist guide, “he had been receiving threats warning him to stop campaigning against illegal logging. Forensic experts said the activist appeared to have been beaten with a sharp object and had a deep wound in his head.”
Gómez González, a former logger from a family of loggers, was initally “a skeptic of conservation efforts, fearful that ending logging activities would lead to poverty,” according to the Washington Post, but after earning a degree in agricultural engineering at Chapingo Autonomous University, he “saw the potential for tourism and formulated the idea of the El Rosario sanctuary,” established with World Wildlife Fund backing within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.
“Biosphere Reserve” more in name than reality
A World Heritage Site recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, & Cultural Organization, the Monarch Biosphere Reserve was designated by the Mexican government in 1980. The reserve boundaries, however, were not defined until 1986, and the reserve was not formally named until 2000.
Located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests ecoregion, on the border of Michoacán and State of Mexico, about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City, the reserve includes most of the known over-wintering sites of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly.
The reserve consists of a patchwork of state, local, and Mexican federal property, along with land belonging to hundreds and perhaps even thousands of inholders, ranging from indigenous subsistence farmers to corporate ranchers.
Saw future in butterfly tourism
For the many inholders, observing conservation recommendations tends to be treated as optional. Since the reserve property lines are hazy, encroachment by loggers, avocado growers, and subsistence farmers tends to be routine. Logging on nominally protected reserve land is controlled only by warring criminal syndicates.
Only about half a dozen communities within the reserve area have developed visitor accommodations. Gómez Gonzàlez, however, saw attracting tourism as the economic future of the region, with the El Rosario preserve showing the way.
“For the last decade,” wrote Stevenson, “Gómez Gonzàlez fought to keep loggers out of the reserve, leading marches, demonstrations and anti-logging patrols. He tried to persuade the government to increase the meager stipend that local farmers receive for preserving trees. He also worked to convince about 260 fellow communal land owners that they should replant trees on land cleared for corn plots. By local accounts, he managed to reforest about 370 acres of previously cleared land,” a tiny portion of the 115,000-acre reserve area, but a start.
A dispute over water rights may have been a bigger factor in the apparent murders of Gómez Gonzàlez and and Hernández Romero than whatever actual threat they posed to logging and agriculture. But whatever role they had in the water rights conflict is unclear.
Explained Stevenson, “Other communal land owners had asked the nearby town of Angangueo for payments in return for water they receive from clear mountain streams that survive only because the forests are protected.”
Robbery was officially ruled out as a possible motive in the killings, as almost $500 in cash was reportedly found on Gómez Gonzàlez’s body.
31 eco-activists killed in three years
“London-based Global Witness counted 15 killings of environmental activists in Mexico in 2017 and 14 in 2018,” Stevenson noted. “In an October 2019 report, Amnesty International said that 12 had been killed in the first nine months of that year.”
Added Conley, “Mexico’s murder rate has gone up in recent years, with more than 34,000 people killed in 2019—the highest annual number ever,” while “Between 2010 and 2016, fewer than 6% of murder cases led to convictions.”
Golfrid Siregar tried to save orangutan habitat
Golfrid Siregar, 34, a lawyer active in opposition to the construction of the Batang Toru hydropower plant in North Sumatra, Indonesia, was on October 3, 2019 “found critically injured on a traffic overpass in [the city of] Medan,” reported Hans Nicholas Jong for Mongabay. “He died three days later in the hospital,” Jong continued.
“Officials ruled the death to be the result of a drunken motorcycle accident,” Jong wrote. “But his friends and family are unconvinced by the explanation: They say he wasn’t a drinker and that his injuries were not consistent with a motorcycle crash. Moreover, they point to death threats made against Golfrid over his activism, which included campaigns against oil palm plantations and sand mines in addition to his work to stop the Batang Toru dam.
The dam is “currently being built in the sole known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan,” Jong explained. The Tapanuli orangutan was formally recognized as a third orangutan species, along with Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, in 2017.
Though the estimated 800 remaining Tapanuli orangutans live in the isolated Batang Toru region of North Sumatra, they were found to be more closely related to Bornean orangutans when University of Zurich geneticist Michael Krützen examined the remains of a specimen in 2013.
Krützen also discovered that the Tapanuli orangutan line appears to be older than either Bornean or Sumatran orangutans, having evolved from mainland Asian ancestors as long as 3.3 million years ago, and having been separated from other orangutan populations for about 75,000 years.
“Golfrid resigned [from his paid job] shortly before his death to focus on a lawsuit aimed at forcing the North Sumatra government to revoke the environmental permit for the dam being built in the orangutans’ habitat,” wrote Jong.
“The lawsuit alleges that a crucial signature was forged during the permit process.”
Specifically, reported Aisyah Llewellyn of Al Jazeera, “In early 2019 a forestry researcher at the University of North Sumatra said that his signature had been forged on a revised environmental impact assessment” the dam builders “used to obtain a licence. He also claimed that the revised assessment omitted his analysis about the impact of the project on local orangutan and tiger populations.”
Further, Jong mentioned, “In August 2019, reported three local police officers to the national police for allegedly stopping a related investigation into licensing irregularities.”
Norm Rosen fought for orangutans too
Norm Rosen, 88, founder of the Southern California Primate Research Forum and the Orangutan Conservancy, and cofounder of the Pan Africa Primate Alliance, died on February 4, 2020 in Hermosa Reach, California.
Wrote Orange County Register columnist Marla Jo Fisher in 2005, “It was July 1989 when Rosen went to Africa for the first time with his wife Lorna. He was a successful publishing executive with grown children and a comfortable income. He didn’t pursue his early interest in anthropology, but he enjoyed his career and life.
“He then visited the gorilla preserve at Virunga National Park, now part of Congo.
“We spent hours there — and that was it for me,” Rosen told Fisher. “When I started realizing what the problems were with these magnificent creatures, I wondered how I could help.”
Took up conservation career at age when many quit
“At age 55,” continued Fisher, “when most people are starting to think about retiring, Rosen quit his job, went back to school, and threw himself passionately into the race to save the great apes.
“Lorna Rosen also was brought to tears by the apes’ plight,” Fisher wrote. “She supported her husband’s career change, even though it decreased their income.’
Rosen went on to spend 19 years as an adjunct faculty member at California State University–Fullerton, becoming Great Ape Coordinator for the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, organizing many international workshops and conferences about great ape issues.
Many balls in the air
“He inspired and mentored dozens of students who would go onto careers in primatology,” recalled Gary L Shapiro, president of the Orang Utan Republik Foundation and the Orangutan Project-USA.
“Norm was an international traveler and passionate about local volleyball, helping to organize tournaments in the Hermosa Beach area,” Shapiro added.
Somehow, amid everything else Rosen did, he also served as event coordinator for the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame, located near his Hermosa Beach home.
Among first to dive in
David Bellamy, 86, cofounder of the Marine Conservation Society, died on December 11, 2019 in County Durham, England.
Recalled his Marine Conservation Society obituary, “Bellamy, who studied and taught botany at Durham University, was in a group of diving scientists who were part of the Underwater Association in 1965. In 1967 he was also among those scientists who dived to look at the effects of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker spill,” at the time the largest on record.
Diving with Bellamy was David George, “who would later become the first chair of Marine Conservation Society,” the obituary continued.
Bellamy subsequently “organized the first citizen science project for divers in 1968, Operation Kelp, in conjunction with Bernard Eaton, then editor of Triton which became Diver magazine, who is often regarded as the father of the Marine Conservation Society,” the obituary added.
Incorporated in 1983, the Marine Conservation Society is now the leading organization advocating for sea life in Britain.
Bellamy went on to star in television programs including Bellamy on Botany, Bellamy’s Britain, Bellamy’s Europe and Bellamy’s Backyard Safari.