UAC Responds to Isolated Tribes Crisis

August 2014:

UAC and its sister organization, ProPurús, are implementing emergency contingency plans in response to the previously isolated tribe initiating contact with villagers on the Envira River near the Brazil – Peru border. Twenty-four members of the tribe have chosen to stay and live near the village, at least for now. The rest have returned to the forest.

Earlier this month, ProPurús staff led a team of isolated tribes experts from Peru’s Ministry of Culture to the Yurua River, located near the Envira, to conduct emergency training for local villagers on how to react if similar contact events happen there. Peru hopes to learn from errors made during the Envira contact, when seven tribespeople became sick. Fortunately, Brazil’s isolated tribes agency, FUNAI, responded by sending a team of doctors and anthropologists to provide medicine and provide leadership to the villagers. However, sensitive information about the contact was publicized on the internet, resulting in an onslaught of media attention. Last week, English television reporters conducted an unauthorized overflight to film an isolated tribe village near the Yurua on the Peruvian side of the border. We can only guess how these intrusions impact the tribes.

A shelter made by isolated people near the Envira River (Chris Fagan, UAC).

A shelter made by isolated people near the Envira River (Chris Fagan, 2008).

After years of limited collaboration, in March, FUNAI and Peru’s Ministry of Culture signed an agreement to work together on protecting the rights of isolated tribes along the border. Obviously, the tribes do not recognize international borders, thus effective collaboration between the two countries is imperative.

Over the past year, UAC / ProPurús has been working closely with the Ministry to assess threats and the presence of isolated tribes in and around the Yurua River and the Murunahua Territorial Reserve. While illegal mahogany logging has been reduced significantly, drug smugglers are still active in the area. In fact, two years ago smugglers took over a FUNAI post on the Envira, very close to the recent contact event, and unfortunately were not removed by the Brazil government. The Envira tribe explained to interpreters that they decided to leave the forest due to fighting with “white people” who experts believe are smugglers. UAC has been documenting illegal logging and drug smuggling near the Envira for the past decade, including this 2010 report.

Last week, ProPurús participated in an emergency meeting in Acre, Brazil hosted by conservation and indigenous rights organization Comissao Pro Indio Do Acre (CPI – Acre). Participants included indigenous leaders and isolated tribes experts from the Acre government. The purpose was to convene experts to share information and design a bi-national protection plan for protecting the Ucayali – Acre borderlands and the people who live there, both settled villagers and isolated tribes alike.

See recent news on the Envira contact

Complejo Purús

Alto Purús is most important protected area for carbon storage in Peru

A new study by Stanford University found that the forests of the Alto Purús National Park store more carbon than any other protected area in Peru. The groundbreaking report, complete with high-resolution 3-D maps, provides a new way for Peru to fight climate change. Long recognized for its critical role in protecting Amazonian fauna and flora, as well as some of the world’s last isolated tribes, the study highlights the Park’s importance as a carbon sink.


By quantifying carbon storage in vegetation throughout the entire country, the maps provide a tool for prioritizing strategies for preventing deforestation and slowing climate change. The results of the two-year study will become particularly important in negotiating prices for carbon offset projects. A limiting factor to such projects has been accurately estimating how much carbon is stored in the vegetation. These maps enable Peru to put a monetary value on its forests which is needed to secure  investments in carbon offset and REDD+SES projects in carbon rich areas like the Alto Purús.

The study shows that Peru’s largest state, Loreto, holds the largest amount of stored carbon, 52%, while the Alto Purús National Park holds more carbon than any other protected area. Preventing deforestation in the Alto Purús should thus be an integral part of Peru’s–and the world’s–strategies for fighting climate change.

See full report and maps here.

Meanwhile, members of indigenous communities located outside the Alto Purús Park are already taking action to respond to climate change. In June, representatives from the 24 communities along the Alto Purús River convened in Puerto Esperanza to sign the first ever “Native Communities of the Alto Purús Declaration on Climate Change”. The declaration was signed during the region’s first-ever workshop on local impacts of climate change. The workshop was sponsored by The University of Richmond, The National University of Ucayali, and UAC’s sister organization, ProPurús.

In related news, a separate study recently found that 95% of  Amazon deforestation happens near roads or major rivers. This highlights the impact that the Alto Purús – Iñapari Highway proposal could potentially have on not only the forests and inhabitants of the Alto Purús, but for Peru’s and the world’s fight against climate change.

New video of recent contact event on the Envira River

July 2014:

Brazil released a video documenting the contact event between a formerly isolated tribe and villagers on the Envira River.

See video here

The tribe explained that they had come from across the border in the Alto Purús National Park and had suffered attacked from armed non-indigenous people, most likely narcotic traffickers. Several tribesman have machetes, indicating previous contact with people with access to manufactured goods. Several members of the group were treated for the flu. It is not known whether it spread to the rest of the tribe. With no immunity to illnesses from the outside world, these contact events often result in devastating epidemics.  Additional information available here.

Members of the tribe on the Envira River (FUNAI).

Members of the tribe on the Envira River (FUNAI).


Isolated Tribe Initiates Contact with Villagers near Peru-Brazil Border

July 21, 2014:

Update: Members of the tribe that initiated contact with villagers on Brazil’s Envira River contracted influenza during contact. They were treated by FUNAI medical personnel and have since rejoined the rest of their tribe in the forest. FUNAI reports that the tribe sought contact to escape recent violent attacks by narcotic traffickers who use these remote borderlands to transport coca paste from Peru to Brazil.  See Survival International’s website for more information.

See UAC’s original post from July 15th below.

July 15, 2014:

In June, a tribe of voluntarily isolated people, also referred to as “uncontacteds,” emerged from the forest and entered a remote Ashaninka indigenous village on Brazil’s Envira River. The group of approximately 60 men, women, and children approached the village peacefully. The Envira is across the border from Peru’s Alto Purús region, where UAC has been working to protect isolated tribes for the past decade. This incident on the Envira highlights a recent increase in encounters between isolated tribes and villagers in these extremely remote borderlands.

Complejo Purús_EnviraBrazil’s agency in charge of isolated groups, FUNAI, immediately responded by sending a commission of translators, health workers, and experts in isolated tribes to assist the villagers and carry out a contingency plan for such incidences of contact in order to prevent any transmission of disease or violence. Since then, the tribe has remained in the area and expressed a desire to end their isolation. This is the first contact initiated by isolated tribes in Acre, Brazil since 1996.

Isolated tribe photographed near the Envira in 2010 (Gleison Miranda / FUNAI / Survival International).

Isolated tribe photographed near the Envira River in 2010 (Gleison Miranda / FUNAI / Survival International).

It is believed that most tribes in isolation have had at least some contact with the outside world. The type of contact could range from verbal communication with villagers from across a river, or the tribe raiding an empty village or logging camp for manufactured items. Some may even have trade relations with other semi-isolated groups that have sporadic contact with the outside world. Most have acquired some manufactured items, such as machetes and metal pots, and seek contact when they need new ones. These tools give them a considerable advantage over other rival isolated groups without such items. In fact, the group on the Envira carried a shotgun. It is not known whether they have ammunition or know how to use it.

Experts are speculating on why the Envira group may have chosen to end their isolation. Some blame illegal logging across the border in Peru’s Alto Purús National Park and Murunahua Territorial Reserve for Isolated Tribes, which could have forced the tribes to flee into Brazil. However, recent river investigations and overflights conducted by UAC and its Peruvian sister organization, ProPurús, found a decrease in illegal logging in these protected areas. Stricter enforcement of regulations related to Mahogany exports have reduced the demand for illegal timber.

Unfortunately, narcotic traffickers are still active in the more remote areas of the Peru – Brazil borderlands, in the exact areas where the isolated tribes live. It is quite possible that the tribes have been forced to change their migratory routes or leave certain watersheds altogether in order to avoid conflicts with the smugglers who are always heavily armed.

While Brazil’s response to the Envira situation should be commended, the future of these tribes depend on both Brazil and Peru’s ability to prepare villagers living in areas with isolated tribes to avoid direct contact, and for the government to respond immediately with contingency plans when the next contact occurs. Entire tribes have been wiped out by common illnesses, and misunderstandings and fear from both the villagers and tribes often leads to violence.

Within the past few days, two different isolated groups have appeared near villages on the Alto Purús River. Neither tribe initiated contact, however, and returned to the forest without communicating with the villagers.

UAC is working with Peru’s park service, ministry of culture, and indigenous federations to protect the isolated tribes living in and around the Alto Purús. In May, we completed a comprehensive assessment of threats and the status of isolated tribes in the Murunahua Territorial Reserve. Results are being used to develop the Reserve’s first ever protection plan.


FUNAI press release

 Article in Science

Camps made by tribes across the border in Peru (C. Fagan, UAC, 2008).

Shelters made by an isolated tribe on the Curanja River, Peru (C. Fagan, UAC, 2008).

Possessions of an isolated tribesman left behind after an encounter with villagers on the Yurua River, Peru. The bag was sewn from clothing taken from the  village during an encounter the previous year (C. Fagan, UAC, 2014).

Possessions of an isolated tribesman left behind after an encounter with villagers on the Yurua River, Peru. The bag was sewn from clothing taken from the village during an encounter the previous year (C. Fagan, UAC, 2014).

Oil and Gas Exploration in the Yurua Threatens Voluntarily Isolated Tribes

February 2014

After an aggressive publicity campaign orchestrated by Peru’s state-owned oil company, Perúpetro, directed at indigenous leaders of the Yurua region, the Yurua’s indigenous federation, Aconadiysh, signed a preliminary agreement to allow oil and gas exploration in their lands. Concession 169 covers approximately 400,000 hectares of extremely remote and relatively undisturbed forest along the Ucayali, Peru and Acre, Brazil border. (See map). In addition to overlapping with a dozen indigenous communities and state forestry lands, the concession includes 100,000 hectares that have been proposed as a communal reserve for the indigenous communities.

Ashéninka villagers on the Yurua River.

Ashéninka villagers on the Yurua River.

UAC and its sister organization, ProPúrus, have been working with the Yurua’s indigenous communities since 2006. In late 2013, we began a collaborative project with Aconadiysh and Peru’s Ministry of Culture to assess the status of isolated tribes throughout the region. Two distinct tribes live inside the Murunahua Reserve and adjacent Alto Purús National Park, and travel through the oil and gas concession during their seasonal migrations.

Over the past 10 years these isolated tribes have been displaced by widespread illegal mahogany logging. While logging has decreased over the past few years, due in large part to improved vigilance and protection activities as well as international accords to prevent the trade of illegally harvested mahogany, the opening of Concession 169 to oil and gas exploration will disrupt the tribes’ migration patterns, make them susceptible to diseases brought by outsiders, and most likely result in outright violence.

Furthermore, opening the concession to exploration conflicts with a proposal submitted by Ucayali’s indigenous organization, ORAU, to Peru’s protected areas agency, Sernanp, to protect part of the concession as an indigenous communal reserve. Oil and gas exploration would obviously run contrary to the communal reserve’s objectives of protecting land for sustainable resource use by local communities.

Chitonahua woman in initial contact. An estimated half of her tribe died from diseases during forced contact with loggers.

Chitonahua woman in initial contact. An estimated half of her tribe died from diseases during forced contact with loggers in the mid 1990’s.

Concession 169 also overlaps several titled Ashéninka, Yaminahua and Amahuaca communities. Hunting, fishing and other subsistence activities would certainly be affected by the seismic testing. Among the communities is a settlement of Chitonahua people in initial contact with modern society. Originally contacted by illegal loggers in the mid-1990’s—which resulted in the death of half of the tribe—the group has adopted a sedimentary lifestyle but remains highly vulnerable to contact with outsiders.

Areas used by the isolated tribes must be removed from the concession if Peru is to uphold international and its own laws respecting the rights of isolated  tribes.  History has taught us that contact with not only loggers but with oil and gas workers has devastated tribes.

Additionally, all members of the Yurua communities need to fully understand the social, cultural, and environmental impacts that will accompany seismic testing and extraction of hydrocarbons in their forest. Most do not speak Spanish and were not able to understand the community presentations conducted by Perúpetro’s representatives.

The risks this project presents to the Yurua’s indigenous peoples, both isolated and settled, as well as world-class biodiversity within its forests is underscored by Peru’s recent announcement that it will no longer require oil companies to conduct environmental impact statements before beginning seismic testing and exploration.

UAC Publishes Guard Manual for the Alto Purús Park

September 2013: Upper Amazon Conservancy and its sister organization, ProPurús, have published a manual for guards working in the Alto Purús National Park and the adjacent Purús Communal Reserve.


Alto Purús Park guards and the new guard manual (ProPurús 2013).

It is the first of its kind for the Park and Reserve and provides an important reference guide and tool for the official guards as well as volunteer “vigilance committees” that help protect the buffer zone.  It includes all relevant information on the roles and responsibilities of both official and volunteer guards, the laws and regulations for the Park and Purús Communal Reserve, protocols for working in areas with voluntarily isolated tribes and those in initial contact, and background information on Peru’s protected areas system. It also includes the datasheets used during monitoring patrols. Various drafts were reviewed by the directors of Alto Purús Park and Purús Communal Reserve as well as outside consultants.

Copies were distributed to each guard and vigilance committee member during training workshops in September. The manual has been integrated into the Park’s guard-training program and we will focus our next few workshops on its contents and proper use in the field.

The Manual can be downloaded here.


Tribes in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact Lack Protection and Support

September 2013:

Mashco Piro on the Las Piedras River in 2008 (Photo: Ricardo Jon Llap / INRENA 2008)

Mashco-Piro on the Las Piedras River in 2008 (Ricardo Jon Llap / INRENA 2008).

Members of the Mashco-Piro isolated tribe appeared near communities outside the Alto Purús and Manu National Parks on three separate occasions in June and July, unusual behavior for the usually reclusive nomadic hunters and gatherers. Experts speculate they may be angry or distressed by uncontrolled turtle egg collection inside their territories by outsiders, and are demanding food and manufactured goods from communities as a form of compensation. (Tribes throughout the Amazon are dependent on turtle eggs for nourishment during the dry season.) Others believe that its simply a case of their desire for manufactured goods growing greater than their fear of outsiders. Regardless of why, it is very likely that the behavior will continue and sightings and actual encounters will become more common. Unfortunately, if the events of the past few months are any indication, Peru is not prepared to respond to these exceedingly dangerous and potentially violent situations.

In not one of these three instances did the Ministry of Culture, the agency in charge of protecting Peru’s isolated tribes, travel to the sites to implement contingency plans and offer support to the villagers  Without any professional guidance, the villagers were forced to manage the encounters on their own. There is deep-rooted fear on both sides, both from the tribes towards the local people and vice versa, and these encounters can easily turn violent. For example, in 2011 a local man was killed by Mashco-Piro outside Manu National Park. Ironically, the man had tried to help the tribe several times in the past by leaving them food and manufactured goods. Why they felt he was a threat on that particular day is anyone’s guess.

Fortunately, the local people reacted calmly and were able to diffuse the tribe’s initial aggression by speaking a few words of broken Piro and offering food. Equally important is that they did not allow the tribes to get too close to them. They are extremely susceptible to sicknesses common to settled peoples, and historically epidemics have decimated tribes after even brief contact with oil and gas workers, filmmakers, missionaries and other outsiders.

Mashco Piro man taken by Amahuaca villagers when he was a child and raised in an Amahuaca village on the Sepahua River (UAC)

Mashco-Piro man taken by Amahuaca villagers when he was a child and raised in an Amahuaca village on the Sepahua River (UAC).

It is imperative that the villagers living in areas visited by the Mashco-Piro and other isolated tribes receive training on protocols for reacting to sightings and encounters. The government should develop contingency plans specific to each area, and then train local people to carry them out. Recognizing this need, in July, UAC and its sister organization, ProPurús, partnered with the Regional Organization of Aidesep Ucayali (ORAU) and the Alto Purús National Park to conduct the first of several training workshops on avoiding conflicts with isolated tribes for local people and park guards living in critical areas.

In addition, the inhabitants of these remote villages must be compensated for losses incurred by the isolated tribes. Crops such as yucca, plantains, peanuts and even sugar cane are a vital food source for these villagers who are among the poorest people in all of Peru. Crops are also as currency and sold or traded for everyday necessities such as salt, gasoline and soap. The manufactured items that the tribes often steal such as machetes, axes, pots and kitchen utensils are exorbitantly expensive. If they are not compensated for these losses the villagers will have no choice but to  defend their possessions. As one man explained, “We don’t want to hurt our Mashco brothers, but we have to defend what is ours.”

It should be obvious but bears repeating that access to the tribes’ territories needs to be controlled. ProPurús is working the Alto Purús National Park to train “vigilance committees” made up of men and women from local communities to help official park guards prevent loggers, commercial egg collectors and other outsiders from entering areas used by the tribes. A new partnership with the Park and Purús Communal Reserve works to protect beaches from unsustainable egg collection by both local people and outsiders alike so that the isolated tribes will have eggs each dry season.

Meanwhile, incredibly, Peru’s congress is still considering a potentially devastating highway project directly through the heart of the Mashco-Piro’s territory.

Despite Peruvian and international laws intended to protect isolated tribes from groups trying to contact them, evangelical missionaries from the United States still work in southeastern Peru region. While so far they have failed to “civilize” the Mashco-Piro, in 2005 they successfully lured an isolated Mastanahua tribe from the forest on the upper Alto Purús River. After establishing contact and constructing a village for the tribe, the missionaries left, perhaps returning their attention to their ultimate objective of contacting the larger Mashco-Piro tribe. Meanwhile, a family of four Mastanahua, one man and three women, have remained near the village. With no government support to ease their transition to a settled lifestyle, they depend to a large extent on nearby communities for food. ORAU and the indigenous federation of the Alto Purús, FECONAPU, and their NGO partners also provide critical support.

There is little doubt that the frequency of encounters with the Mashco-Piro, Mastanahua and perhaps other tribes will increase in the future. Some may even choose to maintain regular contact with the outside world. UAC will continue to work to safeguard Peru’s voluntary isolated tribes so that they are able to leave the forest on their own terms and not be forced out by resource scarcity or pressure from outsiders. We hope the government will take the lead in responding to future encounters in a manner that ensures the tribes protection and respects their way of life.

Read more about the Mashco-Piro here.


Mastanahua man and woman visiting Puerto Esperanza for the first time in 2010. They agreed to travel three days to the town in order to receive medical care. Local people helped collect donations of food and clothing (UAC).

A Mastanahua man and woman in initial contact visiting the town of Puerto Esperanza for the first time in 2010. They agreed to travel downstream for two days in a boat in order to receive medical attention at the hospital. Townspeople helped collect donations of food and clothing (UAC).

Townspeople taking pictures with the Mastanahua man (UAC).

Townspeople in Puerto Esperanza taking pictures with the Mastanahua man in initial contact (UAC).









Mastanahua man at his home near the Alto Purús National Park (UAC)

The Mastanahua man at his house near the Alto Purús National Park in 2012. The house was built by missionaries in 2005 (UAC).