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Mexico's Drug War Keeps Tourists From Monarchs

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIPPLING BUTTERFLY WINGS)

JASON BEAUBIEN: At first, it sounds like a stream rippling somewhere in the distance. Then the flapping of butterfly wings grows into a buzz. Monarchs have converged, as they do every year, on a grove of evergreen trees in Michoacan that's almost two miles above sea level. There are so many of the orange-and-black creatures that the trees appear to be covered in a strange moss.

MARGARITO GONZALEZ NAVARRO: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: In the mid-1970's, researchers discovered that several high-altitude forests in central Mexico serve as the primary winter habitat for millions of Monarch butterflies. Gonzalez says the Monarchs have become hugely important to this remote, impoverished part of the country.

GONZALEZ NAVARRO: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Unidentified Child: (Singing in Spanish)

BEAUBIEN: Most of this violence happens far away from the butterfly reserves, but the general sense of insecurity in Michoacan has deterred visitors.

FRANCISCO VELAZQUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

BEAUBIEN: Velazquez is the lone tourism official in the nearby town of Angangueo. Angangueo used to be a silver mining hub, but the local mines went into decline in the 1980's and the last one shut in 1991. Velazquez says this part of central Mexico is hoping tourism can be its savior.

VELAZQUEZ: (Singing in Spanish)

BEAUBIEN: Jason Beaubien, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.