"Uncontacted" Tribes Fled Peru Logging, Arrows Suggest

Sabrina Valle in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
for National Geographic News
October 6, 2008

Arrows and abandoned camps found in remote western Brazil are fresh evidence of isolated Amazon tribes fleeing Peru to escape the encroachment of illegal loggers, indigenous rights groups say.

London-based Survival International said the arrows were recovered by Brazilian authorities near a site where photos were taken earlier this year of tribal people apparently shooting arrows at the photographer's airplane.

The tribes have been described as "uncontacted"—so remote that they may have had little or no substantive contact with the developed world. (See video.)

Peruvian President Alan Garcia suggested last year that such indigenous groups might be an invention by those who were opposed to oil exploration.

Conservationists, scholars, and Brazilian government agencies that do recognize the isolated tribes have struggled to determine how best to protect them, an effort that has spurred calls for Peru to stop the illegal logging and development that is displacing the indigenous people.

(Related: "Photos Spur Debate on Protecting "Uncontacted" Tribes" [June 3, 2008].)

A Different Kind of Arrow

"There is plenty of evidence for the tribes fleeing and that logging is taking place on the Peruvian side," said David Hill of Survival International.

Logs cut down illegally in Peru have been reported floating downriver to Brazil, and abandoned Indian huts have been found between areas of deforestation.

Brazil's Indian-protection agency, FUNAI, has found traces of fires and footprints at campsites on its side of the border with Peru, as well as newly built houses and the arrows three miles (five kilometers) from the border.

"These houses cannot have been built by anyone else, and the arrows they are using differ from the ones used by 'uncontacted' groups permanently on the Brazilian side of the border," Hill said.

"FUNAI officials have monitored the area for years. They know the lay of the land—who is who, where they are," he said.

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