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Mexico and WWF report dramatic drop in monarch butterflies

Conservationists are calling for greater efforts by Canada, Mexico and the U.S to protect the dying habitat of the monarch butterfly.

By Ananth Baliga

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The range of monarch butterflies hibernating in the forests of Mexico has reached an all-time low of just 1.65 acres.

The disappointing mark was reached in December 2013 and is a 44 percent drop from the previous year. Forests inhabited by the monarch are used as an indicator of its numbers, because the butterflies migrate 2,500 miles from Canada and the U.S. to hibernate in Mexico.

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Extreme climate conditions in North America, deforestation and reduction of milkweed, the primary source of food for the larvae, are some of the reasons behind this drastic decline.

“The combination of these threats has led to a dramatic decline in the number of monarch butterflies arriving to Mexico to hibernate over the past decade,” said Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico Director General. “Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the monarch butterfly migration -- a symbol of cooperation between our three countries -- is in grave danger.”

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Bi-weekly tours across 11 sanctuaries, historically known to house these butterflies, were conducted to locate them and map the perimeter of their range.

According to Karen Oberhauser, professor at the University of Minnesota, the Monarchs have fed on milkweed on their journey from Canada and the U.S. But changing agricultural practices and genetically modified crops have resulted in the disappearance of milkweed from many farms. At the same time Canada has adopted a 'economy first' approach, significantly reducing conversation efforts.

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But Mexico has been attempting to protect the Monarch's habitat by creating alternative-income sustainable projects and employment opportunities for local communities. This has reduced logging activities, preserving the Monarch reserve.

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"Over the past 35 years Mexico has done everything to protect monarch butterfly hibernation sites, and even so the population continues to decrease. It is time that Canada and the United States implemented measures that protect the reproductive habitat and feeding grounds of this butterfly. Otherwise, this spiral of population decline will continue", said Dr. Phil Schappert, Canadian butterfly conservationist.

[WWF]

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