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Mexico monarch butterfly workers found dead days apart near sanctuary

Mourners lower the coffin of community activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez into a grave at a hillside cemetery, in Ocampo, Michoacan state, Mexico on Jan. 31.

A second person tied to a famed butterfly sanctuary in Mexico was found dead Saturday, sparking fear and outcry that the men may have been targeted for their environmental work, local media reported.

Raúl Hernández Romero, a tour guide at the monarch butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacán, was found dead early Saturday, having suffered apparent injuries from a sharp object, El Universal reported, citing state prosecutors.

Officials will do an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death, the newspaper reported.

Hernández Romero’s death comes just days after the funeral of Homero Gómez González, a prominent anti-logging activist who fought to preserve the forest where the butterflies travel every autumn and spend their winters.

Prosecutors said Gómez González’s death initially appears to be caused by drowning after his body was found last Wednesday in a small reservoir in the area, El Universal reported.

Authorities say it is unclear whether the two deaths are connected or whether the deaths are tied to the men’s connection to their work at the butterfly sanctuary, The Washington Post reported. Magdalena Guzmán, a spokeswoman for the Michoacan attorney general’s office, told The Post authorities were “looking into several lines of investigation,” including ties to the sanctuary.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site less than 100 miles northwest of Mexico City. Millions of monarch butterflies return to the site every year as part of their natural migration, according to UNESCO. The butterflies fly thousands of miles on the journey, which draws tourists every year.

But illegal logging tied to criminal organizations and encroaching agriculture coupled with environmental changes worsened by climate change have threatened the forest in recent years. According to The Post, 1,138 acres in the region were lost between 2005 and 2006 because of illegal logging. The area was named a UNESCO site in 2008.

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