Indigenous Leader Seeks Support in Fight Against Highway

September 2016

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.

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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).