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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 23:56 GMT
Prince of Wales meets Mexican monarchs
The Prince of Wales at the Monarch Butterfly Reserve
Charles appeared mesmerised in the dappled sunlight
The Prince of Wales has visited 140 million monarchs - of the butterfly variety.

Thousands of the majestic orange creatures swarmed silently around Charles on the last day of a three-day tour of Mexico.

The blue sky peeping through a canopy of towering Oyamel fir trees was alive with the delicate, fluttering insects at the Monarch Butterfly Reserve, deep in the Chincua Mountains in the state of Michoacan.

And Charles, a keen environmentalist, appeared mesmerised as he stood in the dappled sunlight, murmuring: "It is extraordinarily beautiful."

When, on a sunny day, you see a million butterflies, it is a natural phenomenon you remember for the rest of your life

Carlos Gottfried

But he also had to pick his way through a carpet of butterflies covering the dusty pathways - victims of a cold snap that killed about one in three of the monarchs that flutter thousands of miles from Canada every winter.

Most of Charles' entourage remained in the capital, Mexico City, so he trekked through the forest accompanied only by bodyguards, the royal tour doctor and his private secretary, Stephen Lamport.

The prince also met world authority on the monarch species, Carlos Gottfried.

Mr Gottfried explained that although there were four generations every year, each butterfly knew the migratory route its great-grandparents had taken 12 months ago.

"The monarch butterfly phenomenon is very special and unique," he said.

"It is almost cosmic when you see it."

Another dimension

In Mexico City, Mr Gottfried, a married father of four grown-up sons, is the managing director of a company making electrical motors.

But his life took on another dimension in August 1976 when he read about the monarch phenomenon in the National Geographic magazine.

"It changed our lives," the 51-year-old said.

"When, on a sunny day, you see a million butterflies, it is a natural phenomenon you remember for the rest of your life."

The BBC's Jennie Bond
"The heir to the throne had never been amongst so many monarchs"
See also:

06 Mar 02 | Americas
Prince Charles 'the winged hero'
05 Mar 02 | Americas
Charles dances samba in Rio
05 Mar 02 | Americas
Charles draws crowds in Rio
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