AUSTIN (KXAN) – Canadian ultra-marathon runner Anthony Battah is running roughly 2,800 miles in 90 days to raise awareness for the rapidly declining monarch butterfly population.
Battah’s trek mirrors the monarch butterfly’s migration pattern, starting in Canada and finishing in Mexico. He left his home in Montreal on July 29 and plans to finish at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, about two hours east of Mexico City, on Nov. 1. He will pass through Austin on Thursday or Friday, which will mark a little over two-thirds of his total journey.
“I’m really, really worried about where we’re heading in terms of our planet [and] how we’re taking care of it,” Battah told KXAN at his halfway point for the day Tuesday afternoon.
He said since his daughter was born in 2013, Battah and his wife “started to really question everything. I’ve basically been looking for a way to do something significant in that field, or in that direction, for a number of years,” he added.
Monarch butterflies play a much more crucial role than just being pleasant to admire. Like bees, they are pollinators – when the butterflies land on a flower to drink its nectar, they pick up pollon and carry some with them to the next stop.
Unfortunately, due to factors like climate change, habitat destruction from development and pesticides, the monarch butterfly population has plummeted an estimated 80% in the last two decades, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Some monarch populations are in even worse shape. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reported in 2022 that the western population is at a significant risk for extinction, losing an estimated 99.9% between 1980 and 2001.
“Last summer, I had this crazy idea. I heard about the monarch being in a fragile situation,” Battah said. “While I was studying the situation, I just saw this beautiful opportunity. The monarch butterfly is the ultimate ultra-distance athlete. It covers this current distance that I’m doing – approximately 4500 kilometers – every year.”
“It’s just a beautiful emblem and a nice gateway into a broader discussion into protecting biodiversity [and] protecting the environment,” Battah added.
Battah said he is the first person he is aware of to run this trek by himself. And even though he is running by himself, he is not alone. Driving in an RV alongside him as he runs down to Mexico is his wife and daughter.
“I could not leave without them. That was just not an option,” Battah said. “I was lucky enough to have an amazing and supporting wife who, after saying I was completely crazy, decided to embark on this journey with me.”
Battah and his wife created the nonprofit Ultra-trail Monarch to fundraise. While in the U.S., all donations will go to U.S.-based Monarch Joint Venture to aid monarch butterfly conservation efforts. People can click this link to donate.
While Battah has made his journey down south, the lack of monarchs he has seen along the way has made him all the more resolute in his mission.
“I could definitely count fewer than 100,” he said. “I’m kind of disappointed about that. But it confirms what the scientists have been telling us for a number of years with regards to their endangerment.”