PHOTO IN THE NEWS: "Uncontacted" Tribe Seen in Amazon

Uncontacted native tribes photo
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May 30, 2008—In a palm-hut encampment, members of an "uncontacted" Amazon tribe fire arrows at an airplane above the rain forest borderlands of Peru and Brazil earlier this month. The black and red dyes covering their bodies are made from crushed seeds and are believed to signal aggression, native-rights experts say.

Released May 29, the photo—one of several (see more of the photos)—was taken by officials from Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI).

(See another photo, plus video of the tribe's camp, in our in-depth look at whether this group should be contacted—and whether they're truly uncontacted in the first place.)

Peruvian officials and energy interests have publicly expressed doubt that uncontacted tribes exist in the Amazon. (See "Oil Exploration in Amazon Threatens 'Unseen' Tribes" [March 21, 2008].)

But the new photos are more proof that uncontacted, seminomadic tribes do exist in the increasingly threatened Amazon rain forest, according to Survival International, an international indigenous-rights group that works closely with FUNAI.

"We are very confident the photos are genuine," said Miriam Ross, a spokesperson for Survival International, which estimates that half of the hundred or so uncontacted tribes in the world live in the rain forests of Brazil and Peru.

Some experts say few, if any, tribes have had no outside contact. It's more likely that previous generations had negative encounters, prompting social taboos that continue to drive clans deeper into isolation.

Due to their vulnerable immune systems, these groups are highly susceptible to diseases borne by outsiders such as missionaries, loggers, or oil workers.

The new photos come just months after a similar one (see photo) captured apparently uncontacted natives collecting turtle eggs by a riverbank in the Peruvian Amazon, where energy development and illegal logging are on the rise.

—Kelly Hearn

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