Conservation Concession Offers Unique Research Opportunities in the Purús

November 2016

Last month, UAC staff visited the Mabosinfron conservation concession and its newly constructed research station. The concession covers 6,700 hectares and is located on the La Novia River, a small tributary of the Purús River near the town of Puerto Esperanza the region’s capital (see map). The concession was approved in 2012 after six years of work by 18 men and women concerned with illegal logging and hunting in the region. It is the only research station in the 4 million hectare Alto Purús Complex and is, in fact, the only conservation concession in the entire department of Ucayali. While impacted in the past by selective logging and unsustainable hunting, the concession harbors a full spectrum of Amazonian flora y fauna, including rare species like Mahogany, jaguars and harpy eagles.

Our visit had several objectives, including to see the recently constructed research station and facilities. Secondly, Mabosinfron asked us to accompany them on a patrol of the concession to document illegal clearings made by proponents of the proposed Puerto Esperanza — Iñapari Highway. The clearing follows the path of the proposed road, but fortunately we did not find any recent illegal clearings or other illegal activities.

We also used the opportunity to conduct training exercises for members of local community vigilance committees. The committees are part of the “La Novia Alliance”, a partnership between Mabosinfron, the Purús Communal Reserve and local communities to work together to protect the La Novia Watershed from illegal activities. It is the first mestizo–indigenous conservation partnership in the Alto Purús. Funding is provided by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders program.

More information including photos and videos of the areas’s natural riches are available on its website: riolanovia.org.

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The Mabosinfron Research Station is located on the La Novia River, a tributary of the Purús.

 

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UAC staff utilize the concession to conduct GIS training with members of vigilance committees from local communities. Rare species like this mahogany are still abundant.

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The station’s main building is almost complete.

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UAC and ProPurús staff, Purús vigilance committee members, and journalists pose for a picture with members of the Mabosinfron Conservation Concession.

Indigenous Leader Seeks Support in Fight Against Highway

September 2015:

The president of the Alto Purús indigenous federation (FECONAPU), Emilio Montes Bardales, calls for support from conservation and indigenous rights groups in his fight against a proposed highway. During a recent interview, Mr. Montes expressed his utmost concern for highway bill #75/2016-CR, recently submitted to Peru’s congress, which proposes construction of a paved highway across the Alto Purús National Park and the Madre de Dios Indigenous Reserve for isolated tribes. It would connect the Interoceanic Highway in Madre de Dios to the remote and relatively undisturbed Alto Purús region, one of the wildest places left anywhere in the world. The indigenous communities of the Alto Purús region, who will be most impacted by the road, have repeatedly rejected the proposal over the last decade. In addition, the indigenous federation representing the tribes on the Madre de Dios side (FENEMAD) also vehemently opposes the planned highway, warning that it would result in genocide for isolated tribes.

Proponents are led by a Catholic priest, who claims the highway is needed to bring economic development to the region. However, his small group of supporters are mainly non-indigenous, “mestizo” land-owners, business owners, or others connected to the logging industry who are poised to benefit financially. Currently the Alto Purús is accessible from the rest of Peru by plane or by river from Brazil. The priest has successfully lobbied members of Peru’s new government to submit the bill. In fact, a similar version of the bill was submitted in 2012 and rejected by Congress due to overwhelming opposition by the region’s indigenous tribes. H0wever, the new bill claims that the highway is a “public necessity” for the people of the Alto Purús of “national interest” for Peru. This language is needed to approve a road though a national park.

According to FECONAPU’s Montes:

“The Federation feels abandoned . . .even though we are wealthy with abundant flora and fauna, we live in fear of the road and the pro-road groups . . . the priest is taking advantage of a weak federation to manipulate the people, filling the streets with pro-road propaganda. We lack the funds to respond.  I want to ask the non-governmental organizations to provide more support to FECONAPU so we can respond to his campaign and communicate with our constituents. We need more financial support from the NGO’s, more projects that strengthen the federation.”

UAC and its sister organization, ProPurús, have been working with the indigenous peoples of the Alto Purús for over a decade. We are developing new strategies to support FECONAPU in their struggle against the road proponents, ensuring that their traditional rights as stewards of the Alto Purús are respected.

Additional information on the highway:

Copy of the Bill describing the highway a “public necessity” and of “national interest”

Global Witness 2013 report on the proposed highway

OjoPúblico expose on illegal road and corruption in Madre de Dios, August 2016

UAC highway news 2013

Illegal road construction near Puerto Esperanza, Alto Purús.

UAC and ProPurús meeting in Feconapu’s office. The banner reads: “The highway is a threat for us respect our rights and our way of life!”

Police, Forestry Officials Arrested in Illegal Logging Sting in Peru

April 2016:

Just a few months since Peru enacted its new forestry and wildlife law, a sting operation organized by Peru’s High Commission Against Illegal Logging resulted in the arrests of 19 people suspected in the laundering of illegal timber from the Ucayali region for export the United States and Mexico. On the ground operations were conducted by special environmental police officers based in the city of Pucallpa.

The suspects are part of a logging gang referred to as the Los Patrones de Ucayali, or The Chiefs of Ucayali, that are known to buy timber from Ucayali’s protected areas and indigenous lands and then launder the wood with permits intended for other areas. The gang has been under investigation since last July. The arrested includes four engineers from Ucayali’s forestry agency (DGFFS), the state agency that supervises all forestry activities, three police officers and 12 timber industry workers. The forestry engineers are suspected of approving false “Guias de Transporte”, or transportation permits, needed to move shipments of illegal timber, while the police provided security during transport. The timber workers obtained the illegal permits and secured financing for operations.

Prosecutors are requesting they be held for 18 months while the investigation is conducted. If guilty, they could receive up to 10 years in jail for illegal trafficking of wild flora.

Meanwhile north of Pucallpa, environmental police arrested two loggers working inside the newly created Sierra Del Divisor National Park along the Utuqunía River. Several tractors were found and destroyed. Future operations are planned for the  Tamaya River, where illegal logging has flourished for the past decade, despite rumors of armed loggers ready to resist the police investigators.

Update May 5: Environmental police confiscated 1,571 logs of illegal wood cut in the Tamaya watershed

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Environmental police raid the house of a suspected member of the logging gang, “Los Patrones de Ucayali” (Photo: Diario El Comercio).

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Illegal logging suspects led through the city of Pucallpa (Photo: Diario El Comercio).

Business a usual for illegal loggers on Peru’s Tamaya River

April 2016:

A year and a half since the murders of conservationist Edwin Chota and three other indigenous leaders, rampant illegal logging continues on the Tamaya River in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. “The wood is illegal,” says an anonymous logger with a grin, pointing to a giant raft of 1000 logs floating in a lagoon near the Asháninka community of Cametsa Kipatsi. “No, we don’t have a management plan or permits, but we pay (a bribe) to pass the post downstream. When the rains come we will bring another 2000 logs that we already cut in the forest.”

A man walks on a giant raft of Cumala logs (Virola Spp.). 55 such rafts were counted on the Tamaya River during one five-hour period. (C. Fagan)

A man walks on a giant raft of Cumala logs (Virola Spp.) being transported to sawmills in Pucallpa. 

The man is from the city of Pucallpa, a day’s trip downstream by boat, and he has come with his wife and two small children to spend a month in the forest cutting and then transporting timber. He is part of one of dozens of logging outfits operating in the Tamaya watershed, a lawless mosaic of indigenous lands and forestry concessions. While some concessions have legal permits to log, there is zero compliance with, or enforcement of, management plans which are mandated by law to ensure sustainability. In fact, most of the logging occurs outside of the legal concessions within the traditional lands of the Asháninka people who call the Tamaya home. The illegal wood is then laundered with permits for concessions located elsewhere.

UAC and its sister organization, ProPurús, are helping the Asháninka secure legal title to their lands, the first step to being able to protect their lands and the resources they depend on. In the meantime, we are developing four community “vigilance committees” to equip and train local men and women to document illegal activities and to work with government officials to remove the loggers and enforce the law.

 

Update May 5: Environmental police confiscated 1,571 logs of illegal wood cut in the Tamaya watershed

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Logging families camped in an abandoned house near the Asháninka community of Cametsa Kipatsi. They are paid 450 soles (150 US$) per month to log. Unable to afford supplies, they survive by hunting monkeys, deer and peccary.

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A woman watches a timber raft float by her house in the village of Maseo Caserio. UAC staff counted 55 rafts floating downstream during a five-hour period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government forestry control post on the Tamaya.

Government forestry control post on the Tamaya.

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Logs ready to be floated downstream to sawmills in Pucallpa.

Lake Management Plan Completed in the Purús

January 2016:

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Lake Pernambuco in the community of Conta (C. Fagan).

The communities of Conta and San Jose have developed a plan to sustainably manage fish in Lake Pernambuco. The management plan is the first of its kind among the 24 indigenous communities located on the Purús River outside of the Alto Purús National Park and Communal Reserve. Community members assisted expert consultants to study the lake’s water quality, the abundance and diversity of fish, and the impacts of fishing. Results were analyzed to develop specific recommendations for protecting endangered species and for utilizing abundant species for subsistence and to sell as a source of income. Income opportunities are very limited in this remote region.

Arapaima gigas caught and released in Lake Pernambuco)

Arapaima gigas caught and released in Lake Pernambuco.

The lake harbors an impressive array of fish including the exceedingly rare Arapaima (Arapaima gigas), among the world’s largest freshwater fish which has been overfished and extirpated from most of the Amazon basin. The lake’s management plan is part of a new collaborative effort among indigenous communities, non-indigenous farmers, and Peru’s park service to protect the La Novia river, a tributary of the Purús, from unsustainable and illegal fishing, hunting, and logging. Members of the new “La Novia Conservation Alliance” include the Conta and San Jose communities, the Purús Communal Reserve, the Mabosinfron Conservation Concession, and UAC’s sister organization, ProPurús. Funding is provided by a grant to UAC from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Wildlife Without Borders program.

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Clockwise from top left: Conta—San Jose fisheries committee; stingray and fish collected during lake management study; fishing on Lake Pernambuco; endangered Taricaya turtles being released into the La Novia River; the Ucayali region’s community fisheries vigilance manual.

Nat Geo Examines Recent Contact with Mashco-Piro

October 2015

An October feature by National Geographic (see article here) explores recent contact events between the Mashco-Piro isolated tribe and local villagers in southern Peru asked the question “why?”.  The Mashco-Piro, or simply Mashco, are considered the most aggressive and dangerous of the handful of tribes living in isolation in the Purús – Manu Conservation Corridor. But in recent years, smaller sub-groups of the tribe are initiating contact with villagers on different rivers. Experts disagree whether this change in behavior is caused by external or internal forces. Are illegal loggers, drug smugglers and unscrupulous missionaries forcing them out of the forest, or are the Mashco simply drawn to villages by a desire for manufactured goods, such as machetes and metal pots, and food handouts?

Several years ago, Upper Amazon staff encountered a group of Mashco during an expedition to document illegal loggers in the headwaters of the Alto Purús River. The Mascho showed no aggression and let us leave without incident.  A video of that expedition called “El Purús: The Plunder of Peru’s Forgotten Forest” can be seen here.

A Mascho-Piro man on the Sepahua River. He was stolen as a child and raised by an Amahuaca family (Chris Fagan, 2004).

A Mascho-Piro man who was stolen as a child and raised by an Amahuaca family (C Fagan, 2004).

 

 

 

Peru announces plan to protect isolated tribe near Manu National Park

July 2015:

Peru’s Ministry of Culture has announced a “special attention plan” (Plan de Atención Especial) to protect a group of isolated tribespeople living along the border of Manu National Park. The group, estimated at 30 individuals, is part of the much larger Mashco-Piro tribe that inhabits parts of Manu and the Alto Purús national parks, and adjacent areas in Acre, Brazil. Tribe members have been entering a local village and waiting on beaches to wave down passing boats to ask for food and manufactured items like machetes. The contact is not new, as there has been sporadic contact between them and villagers for approximately 20 years; however, the frequency of sightings has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2014, the tribe was seen 77 times, usually on beaches but occasionally in the forest near the village. Two villagers have been killed by the tribe, including a young boy who was shot with an arrow near a community garden earlier this year.

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Members of the Mashco Piro tribe in Madre de Dios, Peru (Jean-Paul Van Belle, University of Cape Town).

Originally, the plan was announced as “controlled contact”, which immediately raised concerns among indigenous rights groups. For example, it received sharp criticism from the Madre de Dios indigenous federation, Fenamad, the organization who works to ensure the rights of the region’s indigenous tribes. There are numerous examples of isolated people or those in initial stages of contact being decimated by diseases spread during even well-planned contact.

The Ministry has since clarified that the objective is not to contact the group, but to protect them from contact with outsiders in order to reduce the potential for diseases, and to prevent more violence between the tribe and villagers. If the tribe initiates contact, Ministry specialists will try to communicate with them in order to better understand the reasons behind their recent contact with outsiders.

UAC and ProPurús are working with the Ministry to develop protection plans for isolated tribes in the Alto Purús – Manu region. Our priority is to protect the tribes’ territories from illegal activities and incursions so they are able to continue their lifestyles for as long as they want and can initiate contact on their own terms. We are wary of any policy to initiate contact with Amazonian tribes. The risks associated with disease and violence is well-documented. Furthermore, the policy could be promoted by sectors of the government more interested in economic development than indigenous people. Initiating contact and moving tribes into settled communities could be used not in the best interest of the tribes, but to remove obstacles to oil and gas development or constructing infrastructure projects such as dams and highways. 

It is clear, however, that this group of Mashco-Piro desires some level of contact. They have also shown a propensity for violence. If they initiate contact with the Ministry team, limited communication managed by an expert team of anthropologists, linguists, and doctors, could provide valuable information on the tribe’s needs and desires; information that necessary to develop plans for their long-term protection.

Links to more information:

Reuters article on the planned contact (in English)

Editorial by government specialist describing rationale for the new plan (in Spanish)

 

UAC’s work to protect isolated tribes highlighted in Science magazine

June 2015
Science magazine has published an extensive expose on issues surrounding isolated tribes in the southwestern Amazon in light of recent contact events between the tribes and local villagers.  The articles are divided into two sections—Peru and Brazil. The Peru section was informed by an April expedition to the Alto Purús led by UAC and its Peruvian sister organization ProPurús. A summary of the trip was described in an earlier post and available here.

A Mastanahua woman in initial contact (C. Fagan).

A Mastanahua woman in initial contact in the Alto Purús. She and three family members left the forest several years ago but maintain relations with the rest of their tribe still living in isolation (C. Fagan).

The articles describe an exceedingly complicated situation in this extremely remote region of the Peru – Brazil borderlands, as several distinct tribes have decided to end their isolation to obtain food, machetes and other manufactured items for local villagers. These contact events are usually disastrous for the tribes, resulting in deadly disease transmission or outright violence. Science explores how both governments are responding to recent contact events, raising serious concerns about the fate of some of the world’s last isolated peoples.

The articles are available on the Science website here, and as pdfs below.

Peru: Making Contact: Some of the last isolated tribes are emerging from Peru’s rainforests. Andrew Lawyer

Brazil: In Peril: As contacts spike, critics fear the Brazil’s once-vaunted protection of isolated tribes is crumbling. Heather Pringle

For more information on Peru’s isolated tribes, the work of UAC and ProPurús to protect them and how you can help, please contact: email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Expedition team members traveling ion the Curanja River, Peru (Jason Houston)

Expedition team members traveling on the Curanja River, Peru in April (Jason Houston).

Frustrations Grow after Communities are Raided by Isolated Tribes

March 2015:

Huni Kuin (Cashinahua) families on the Alto Purús River  have been raided by isolated tribespeople in recent months. Living in one of the most remote regions of Peru, they have few income opportunities, and are asking the government to replace or compensate them for the stolen items (C. Fagan).

Huni Kuin (Cashinahua) families on the Alto Purús River have been raided by isolated tribespeople in recent months. Living in one of the most remote regions of Peru, they have few income opportunities and are asking the government to replace or compensate them for the stolen items (C. Fagan).

A UAC and ProPurús expedition to the remote headwaters of the Alto Purús River found growing frustration among local people towards isolated tribes living in nearby forests. In October and November of last year, four communities on a tributary of the Alto Purús were raided by isolated tribespeople who broke into houses and took clothing, machetes, pots and pans, as well as a short wave radio and solar panels. The heavier items including the radios and panels were destroyed and left in the nearby forest. The villages were abandoned due to local elections being held downstream. Now, several months later, villagers are demanding that they receive full compensation for the stolen items, and that the government do more to prevent future raids.

While sightings of isolated tribes in the area are relatively common during the dry season when the tribes travel to the larger rivers to collect turtle eggs, there has been a dramatic increase of sightings in recent years: 25 in fact since 2009. Actually entering the communities, however, marks a dramatic change in behavior. It seems that a desire for manufactured items is overcoming their fear of outsiders. Remarkably, the trend is occurring with other isolated tribes elsewhere in the Alto Purús region and surroundings (see news on recent events in Simpatia and Monte Salvado).

A Mastanahua man in initial contact (C. Fagan).

A Mastanahua man in initial contact with modern society lives with his two wives and mother-in-law near the Alto Purús River. He was contacted by US missionaries 10 years ago. However, members of his tribe still live hidden in the forest and in recent months have raided local communities for machetes, pots, clothing, and other manufactured items (C. Fagan).

The expedition team included representatives from government and indigenous groups working to protect the isolated tribes, including official guards from the Alto Purús National Park and Communal Reserve, volunteer Vigilance Committees from nearby communities, and protection agents from Ucayali’s indigenous federation, ORAU’s, project to protect tribespeople in isolation and in initial contact. Unfortunately, neither Peru’s parks service nor ORAU have a budget to compensate villagers on losses from the raids. Peru’s Ministry of Culture has provided some compensation, but according to local people it is not enough, and they have stated that in the future they will have no choice bu to defend their homes and possessions.

What makes this situation especially unique is the presence of a Mastanahua family in initial contact near where the raids occurred. Contacted by missionaries roughly 10 years ago, the family of four live near the Purús Communal Reserve, and they serve as a link between two worlds: people like the Huni Kuin living in settled villages downstream, and the rest of their families still living in isolation in the forest. The Huni Kuin believe they may have helped their families conduct the raids.

The expedition was part of UAC and ProPurús work to train local guards and community leaders to react appropriately to contact events with isolated tribes in order to avoid violence and disease transmission. Lacking adequate government support in these remote areas, we are working to develop new projects that enable local people to not only react appropriately to future contact events, but to benefit from their critical role in ensuring that any contact is safe and ethical for both groups.

For more information contact email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Peru Passes Resolution to Title Saweto after Murders

January 2015

After a 12 year struggle to obtain title to their homelands which cost the lives of four of it’s leaders who were murdered by loggers in September, last month the Peru government finally passed a resolution legally recognizing 80,000 hectares as belonging to the Ashéninka community of Saweto. Furthermore, officials have promised to travel to Saweto by helicopter in February to present the title to Saweto’s newly elected leaders in a community assembly. Upper Amazon Conservancy and its Peruvian sister organization, ProPurús, has been helping Saweto in their quest for land recognition and justice for three years.

The struggle has been resisted by illegal loggers benefiting from open access to Saweto’s timber, as well as corrupt, pro-logging officials in the Ucayali regional government. Please see the following document for a summary of Saweto’s decade-long effort to remove illegal loggers and obtain title to their lands, including various links to additional information on Saweto’s struggle. The Alto Tamaya Indigenous Community: A summary of illegal logging, land titling, and violence in the Peruvian Amazon.

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Saweto leaders and allies at a workshop to advance Saweto’s titling efforts held in Pucallpa in August 2012. Murder victims Jorge Ríos Pérez and Edwin Chota Valera are in the front row wearing their traditional cushma clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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