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Upper Amazon Conservancy Investigation Exposes Illegal Logging in Murunahua Reserve

Purús mahogany awaiting processing.

August 2011

Illegal Mahogany Loggers Penetrate Heart of Uncontacted Tribal Reserve in Peru

UCAYALI, Peru — An Upper Amazon Conservancy investigation has exposed an illegal logging camp and an expansive network of forest roads along the border of the Murunahua Reserve for Uncontacted Peoples.

The road system is part of a greater clandestine network that has been building steadily for the past decade in the Yurua River region of the Amazon headwaters in Peru – threatening the survival of some of the last remaining tribes of uncontacted people on Earth. Upper Amazon Conservancy staff, working together with indigenous leaders, partner NGOs and the Peruvian park service, have repeatedly, and explicitly, documented widespread illegal logging in the reserve and the surrounding region.

The Murunahua Territorial Reserve, near the Brazil border in southeast Peru, is home to roaming tribes of voluntarily-isolated peoples and borders the heart of one of the most remote regions of the Amazon basin, the Alto Purús National Park – the very headwaters of the Amazon River.

Most recently, illicit logging has spread to the heart of this sprawling, 1.2 million acre protected area, with a large, quickly expanding network of roads penetrating the interior. Loggers now access remote territory inside the reserve, where they cut highly valuable mahogany trees and sneak the slabs out the ‘back door’, to waterways less frequented by local tribesmen.

Logging camps like this one, photographed during an Upper Amazon Conservancy aerial survey, are appearing in ever-more remote tribal reserve regions of the Purús.

Earlier this year, Upper Amazon Conservancy staff surveyed the region from small aircraft and identified several illegal logging camps inside the reserve.  On the ground, an expedition led by a group of local Asheninka men – part of a newly trained “vigilance committee” organized by UAC and Peru’s park service, documented a large-scale illegal operation along the border of the reserve, including the discovery of massive slabs of fresh-cut mahogany and a live tree marked with an enormous ‘X’.

The new road network serves as a funnel for further settlement by farmers, drug traffickers, hunters and miners, and allows loggers using tractors to drag the mahogany across a watershed divide to the Ucayali River, where the logs are floated downstream to Pucallpa and eventually trucked to Lima.

By the time the wood reaches Ucayali, a regional Amazonian hub, officials are unable to pinpoint its origin and assume it legal, giving it the government permits that allow it to be sold internationally.  While an individual mahogany tree may not make or break an ecosystem, their extraction and sale from these remote protected areas have placed unprecedented pressure on voluntarily isolated peoples in a reserve explicitly established to protect them. These tribes willingly avoid outside contact of any kind. If logging continues unabated, they will have no place to go and their unique culture will be eliminated.

Such activity explicitly violates both the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and the recently-signed Peru-United States Trade Promotion Agreement.

An expedition organized by Upper Amazon Conservancy field staff and the Peruvian Park Service found this tree, marked with an 'X' near a recently abandoned logging camp on the border of the Murunahua Reserve.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, officials at some Peruvian government agencies have publicly and privately confided that they believe the voluntarily-isolated peoples have been driven out of the reserve – and have hinted at abolishing it. Thanks in part to the increasing international pressure brought to bear by UAC’s investigations and revelations, government officials have agreed to work together with the UAC to jointly document the presence of these tribes  – a positive step forward.

In a press release earlier this month, the Peruvian government unequivocally stated its support for both the uncontacted tribes and the Murunahua reserve itself. The Upper Amazon Conservancy salutes INDEPA for its willingness to cooperate in saving this special place and culture, and will continue to work to ensure that the government keeps that promise.

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The Upper Amazon Conservancy’s investigations are part of a larger effort here to protect the greater Alto Purus ecosystem; one of the wildest places left on the planet – home to still undocumented species of plants and wildlife, voluntarily-isolated peoples and a carbon sink of international significance.

For more information, contact Chris Fagan at email hidden; JavaScript is required or Francisco Estremadoyro at email hidden; JavaScript is required, or see our website at www.upperamazon.org.