Illegal Logging Takes Its Toll in the Amazon

April 18th, 2012

Posted to National Geographic

New study says U.S. firms importing millions of dollars worth of ill-gotten timber

The timber industry in Peru is rife with corruption and illegality, and international buyers are complicit in a “well-oiled machine” that is plundering the Peruvian rain forest, endangering its rich biodiversity and undermining the welfare of indigenous communities, according to a major new study by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

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Peru Releases Dramatic Footage of Uncontacted Indians

October 28th, 2011

Posted to NationalGeographic.com

The Peruvian government has released dramatic new footage showing a near-encounter with a group of uncontacted Indians along a riverbank in the Amazon rain forest. The video was taken by travelers on the Manu River in southeastern Peru in recent months, according to officials from Peru’s Ministry of the Environment, who released the images on Monday.

In the video, travelers appear to be playing a game of cat and mouse with the naked tribesmen, drifting close to shore only to flee in panic in their motorboat as the natives approach. Some of the Indians brandish bows and arrows, and at one moment, one of them prepares to launch an arrow at the boat. The travelers are heard debating among themselves whether to approach, whether to back off, and if they should leave gifts of food or clothing on the shore for the Indians to take.

Officials said there have been multiple sightings in recent months of nomadic bands of Mashco-Piro Indians in the area of Manu National Park. Isolated Indians are known to travel extensively by foot during the dry season, now at its height, appearing along the riverbanks as they search for turtle eggs buried in nests along the sandy beaches of the western Amazon. But mounting pressure from logging crews, wildcat gold prospectors, and seismic teams exploring for oil and gas are flushing isolated indigenous out of the forests as well, according to Roger Rumrill, a special advisor to the Environment Ministry.

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Dark Edge of the Frontier

August 25th, 2011

posted to NationalGeographic.com

While on assignment for National Geographic in Peru this summer, I had the privilege of visiting the Ashéninka indigenous community of Saweto, at the headwaters of the Alto Tamaya River near the border of Brazil. It can take up to eight grueling days of boat travel from the city of Pucallpa to reach Saweto, a quiet village of plank-and-thatch huts set atop the banks of the twisting Tamaya River. But we – photographer Alex Webb, University of Richmond geography professor David Salisbury, and myself – had the luck and luxury to arrive by helicopter, which delivered us as if by magic carpet onto Saweto’s soccer field in the village clearing a mere 40 minutes after lift-off from Pucallpa.

Such are the contradictions of modern life. Forty minutes in the air and you drop in on another reality, people so removed from the outside world that they can scarcely remember the last time they were visited by a government official, other than the school teacher who packed up and left weeks before the end of the academic year with no promise to return.

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A Death Foretold

June 8th, 2011

posted on NationalGeographic.com

Late last month the Brazilian Congress passed a bill that if it becomes law would ease restrictions on rain-forest clearing and make it easier than ever to mow down the Amazon. That same day, 800 miles north of the parliamentary chamber in Brasilia, assailants ambushed and killed a married couple whose opposition to environmental crimes had placed them in the crosshairs of those who most stand to gain from the new legislation. (more…)

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Fisticuffs Erupts in Peru Over Uncontacted Tribes

June 7th, 2011

posted on NationalGeographic.com

Peru says it will bolster protections for uncontacted tribes roaming the deep Amazon after a public row erupted last week that sent indigenous affairs officials scrambling for cover.

The debate began in recent days after officials from the outgoing administration of president Alan Garcia let slip a series of statements hinting at plans to modify—and perhaps even revoke—protected status for two so-called territorial reserves set aside for isolated indigenous groups and the rain forest that harbors them.

As many as 15 nomadic or seminomadic indigenous groups are believed to inhabit remote stretches of eastern Peru in willful isolation from the rest of the world. They figure among the very last uncontacted tribes on Earth. That’s not an arbitrary number; it’s based on extensive documentation of sightings of furtive tribespeople or the vestiges they leave behind—footprints, spears, ceramic pots, shelters—as they move through the forest. (more…)

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