Monarch Butterflies Travel Across America's Borders Without Visas

PHOTO: Monarch butterflies spend summertime in Canada and winter in a few mountain tops in Michoacán state, Mexico.

SK Films

Immigration activists touring the United States on the Undocubus, recently adopted Mexicos' Monarch Butterfly as their symbol, due to its ability to freely move across borders.

The butterfly species, which migrates every year from Canada to Mexico, now stars in Flight of the Butterflies, a $12 million IMAX documentary that makes a powerful case for the conservation of this species.

Monarch butterflies cover thousands of miles throughout North America each year, spending summertime in Canada and always returning to a few mountaintops in Mexico's Michoacán state for their winter holiday. Until recently, however, the butterflies' Mexican refuge was a complete mystery. In 1975, Canadian zoologist Freud Urquhart's team discovered where the monarch's migration route ended.

Urquhart spent 40 years tracking the monarch butterfly's path. He located its travel destination with the help of Ken Brugger and Catalina Aguado, two Mexico City residents and nature enthusiasts who spotted the species during trips to Michoacán.

"Of course Dr. Freud Urquhart is really the reason why the butterflies were located because he hired us, my husband and I, to work with him and to look for them," Aguado said during the film's premiere in Mexico City earlier this month.

"It is very important to me that the butterflies are recognized as an insect that needs protection, and I believe this film is good reminder of that," Aguado said of the documentary, which tracks the butterflies as they depart from Canada, stop in Texas and make it to their final stop in Mexico.

The Mexican government invested around 4.7 million dollars in the production of the film and plans to show it all over the world, as part of its efforts to promote eco tourism in Mexico.

Since 2007, the monarchs resting place in Michoacán has been declared a natural Protected Area by the Mexican government. Illegal logging in the area has been almost eradicated thanks to the combined action of government agencies and local landowners.

But the trade-off between protection of the environment and economic necessities is an everyday struggle.

Roman Velázquez a representative of the indigenous community of Carpinteros, which is located near the butterfly sanctuary, says there is a need for eco-friendly businesses in the area.

"Here in Carpinteros people mostly grow avocados, it's a region where 50 percent of the income comes from the avocado. We don't want to fumigate, to cut down the trees, we know we have a great treasure within our forests, because of the monarch butterfly," Velázquez told ABC/Univision during the film's Mexico City premiere in October. "But we don't have any alternative resources. So we need the government to help generate other ways to earn a living".

Adam González, from the nearby El Rosario community says that his neighbors have begun to explore with Ecotourism.

"We built 6 cabins so we can receive tourists. But we ran out of resources and they do not even have furniture yet. We need to build many more cabins and have air conditioning and catering services so that tourists will be pleased by their visit and come back the next year as the monarch comes back every year", González said.

Gloria Tavera, head of the Monarch Butterfly Reserve, acknowledges the efforts made by local populations and is well aware of the needs that still have to be filled in Mexico with local communities, but she says that preservation work also needs to be undertaken in the U.S. and Canada.

"The Monarch confronts too many hazards in its journey throughout the continent, from fertilizers in Texas fields to changes in the use of the land and extreme drought due to climate change," Tavera said.

"We need to show this film to our kids, to our youth and to our families so that they can feel the pride of hosting such valuable guests."

Flight of the Butterflies is showing in 3D theaters across the U.S. Click here for more info.

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