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.

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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.”

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Lake Management Plan Completed in the Purús

January 2016

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.

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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.


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.

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