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).




Leaving the Forest: Recent Encounters with Isolated Tribes in Southeastern Peru

August 2013:

In three separate instances in June and July, members of the Mashco-Piro tribe left the forest’s interior and appeared near communities outside the Alto Purús and Manu National Parks. Other than some initial displays of aggression, they acted peacefully and left after a few days, taking with them crops from the community gardens and metal tools and other manufactured goods from the villagers’ houses.

Members of the Mashco Piro isolated tribe near Manu National Park in 2012 (Photo: D. Cortijo / Survival International).

Members of the Mashco Piro isolated tribe near Manu National Park in 2012                (D. Cortijo / Survival International).

The Mashco-Piro are Peru’s largest tribe of indigenous people living in voluntary isolation, also referred to as “uncontacteds,” and total perhaps as many as 1,000 people. They live in smaller familial clans in remote headwater streams and historically have avoided contact with outsiders, choosing to remain hidden in the forest. Occasionally they are seen during the dry season when they visit the larger rivers in search of turtle eggs and other resources. Experts believe they have chosen isolation in order to avoid the horrible violence and devastating epidemics that have resulted from previous contact with outsiders, particularly during the rubber boom 100 years ago.

What is not clear, however, is why they are appearing near populated areas with more frequency over the past few years.

“One possible reason for their appearance is their frustration with the dramatic increase in turtle egg collection in their territory by local villagers and commercial collectors who travel several days from towns located downstream,” says Arsenio Calle, director of the Alto Purús Park. Isolated tribes throughout the Amazon depend on the eggs of aquatic turtles for their survival during the dry season when resources are scarce.

Isolated tribes expert, Beatriz Huertas, agrees with Calle. “The constant presence of the isolated tribes could be to show their anger that other people are stealing resources that they consider vital to their survival. They feel threatened.”

Accounts of the three encounters over the past few months support Calle and Huertas’ theory.  They also indicate that the tribes desire for food and metal and other manufactured tools and goods may have grown greater than their fear of outsiders; however the real reason is anyone’s guess. Regardless, UAC will continue to work with Park guards and local villagers to prevent overexploitation of turtle nests on beaches used by the Mashco-Piro during the dry season, and control access to more remote areas where they are known to live. Our hope is that the Mashco-Piro will choose to leave the forest on their own terms and not be forced out due to scarcity of resources or illegal activities in their territory.



Alto Purús National Park control post, Alto Purús River. The kitchen was broken into by Mashco Piro tribesmen in July 2013 (Photo: UAC 2013).

Alto Purús National Park control post, Alto Purús River. The kitchen was broken into by Mashco Piro tribesmen in July 2013 (ProPúrus).

Alto Purús

In July, a group of Mashco-Piro broke into an Alto Purús National Park control post near the community of Monterrey on the Alto Purús River. They stayed for two days eating yucca and plantains from the post’s small garden but quickly disappeared into the forestwhen the guards returned, taking with them pots, spoons and machetes.  According to park guard Ernesto Meléndez, “they are the same Mashco-Piro who come here every year to collect turtle eggs. However, this is the first time they have broken into the control post.”


Las Piedras

In June, more than 100 Mashco-Piro men, women and children appeared at the community of Monte Salvado on the Las Piedras River close to the border of the Mashco-Piro Territorial Reserve. Unlike the encounter on the Alto Purús where the Mascho-Piro left immediately upon seeing the guards, the group in Monte Salvado stayed for three days and showed no fear of the villagers.

In fact, on several occasions the group made attempts to cross the river and enter the community but the villagers were able to persuade them not to by pushing canoes filled with food across the river. The villagers are members of the Yine tribe, also called Piro. They were able to communicate with the tribe in broken Piro, which helped diffuse the initial tension and aggressive behavior shown by the Mashco-Piro. “It is not strange that they appeared on the Las Piedras,” said Huertas. “What is strange is how close they came to Monte Salvado.”

Click here to see remarkable footage of the encounter.


Shelters made by isolated hunters and gatherers on the upper Yurua River

Shelters made by isolated people on the upper Yurua River in March 2013 (ProPurús).

A third encounter occurred on the northern side of the Alto Purús Park on the Yurua River in the small community of Selva Virgen.

A group of approximately 100 Mashco-Piro entered the community and made aggressive gestures with their spears and arrows towards the villagers who fled to the other side of the river. One of the villagers spoke a few words of Piro and began to communicate with the tribe, at which point they put down their weapons and acted peacefully. They stayed for four days eating peanuts, sugar cane and squash and left with machetes, spoons, a mosquito net and some clothing.

It is possible that this was the same group documented by ProPurús and park guards in March 2013 during a monitoring patrol.



Corruption and Bribes Behind Purús Highway Bill According to Report

An illegal road and mahogany logging near the Alto Purús Park

An illegal road and mahogany logging near the Alto Purús Park (Photo: UAC)


May 2013:

A recent investigation by Global Witness uncovered widespread government corruption, bribery and egregious conflicts of interest behind the Purús highway bill.

UAC helped with the report as part of our campaign to publicize the highway’s potentially devastating impacts on the protected areas, isolated tribes, and settled indigenous communities of the Alto Purús region.

Read the full report here.

Visit Global Witness’ website to read the press release.

Read more about Global Witness’ report on (Spanish)

See The Guardian’s article, “Peru Funded Illegal Amazon Road, Claims Global Witness”

Upper Amazon Conservancy Featured in National Geographic

April 2013:

Measuring illegally cut mahogany near the Murunahua Territorial Reserve for isolated peoples (Photo: NG)

April’s edition of National Geographic magazine features the work of Upper Amazon Conservancy and its Peruvian sister organization, ProPurús, in an exposé on illegal logging in southeastern Peru. In 2011, UAC and ProPurús staff led a National Geographic team on two trips to the field to document illegal mahogany logging and its impacts on Peru’s protected areas and indigenous people. The article focuses on the Alto Purús region, where UAC has worked since 2002. The region is home to several indigenous tribes in voluntary isolation and initial contact with the outside world. It also harbors Peru’s largest stands of mahogany, one of the world’s rarest and most valuable timber species.


Members of the National Geographic expedition posing in front of a giant mahogany near the Yurua River (Photo: UAC)

The story also describes a trip to the upper Tamaya River where illegal loggers are targeting unprotected indigenous lands along the Peru – Brazil border. UAC board member and University of Richmond professor, Dr. Salisbury, has been working in the Tamaya since 2005; and in 2012, David, UAC and ProPurús initiated a collaborative project with the community of Saweto and their leader, Edwin Chota, to help secure legal ownership of their traditional homelands. In addition to unregulated and widespread logging, their lands are used by drug traffickers to smuggle cocaine from the Andes into Brazil.

The article is available on National Geographic’s webpage, the April edition of the magazine and here as a pdf.

Also, see National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog for an update on Edwin Chota’s struggle against illegal loggers.






Titling the Native Community of Saweto: a Challenge for Social Justice and Conservation in the Ucayali Borderlands

Pucallpa, March 2013:

Illegal logging, drug trafficking and invasions by neighboring Brazilians are the major problems affecting the native community of Saweto, located in the headwaters of the Tamaya River along the Peru – Brazil border.

Saweto, which is comprised of 33 families of the Ashéninka tribe, was formally recognized by the Peruvian government as a native community in 2003. The recognition was an important step in legitimizing the community and its chief, Edwin Chota’s, fight against the social and environmental problems caused by illegal activities on their ancestral lands.

Since 2003, Chota has filed numerous complaints about the illegal activities to Ucayali’s forestry officials, but with very little success. A decade later, loggers continue working with impunity in Saweto, as documented by a recent article in National Geographic magazine.

Illegal logging in Saweto, November 2012

Concerned about the impacts that illegal logging is having on the people and forests of Saweto and the entire Alto Tamaya region, in 2012 ,UAC and its sister organization, ProPurús, joined forces with Chota to help the community with conservation planning and securing title to its territory. Without title, the Ashéninka of Saweto are virtually powerless to protect their homelands, serve as barriers to deforestation in nearby protected areas, or resist damaging infrastructure initiatives, such as the proposed Pucallpa – Cruzeiro do Sul highway. 


As a first step, in April 2012, UAC / ProPurús signed a collaboration agreement with Ucayali’s titling agency (DRSAU) and the Borderlands Research Center at the University of Ucayali. The partnership has two primary objectives: 1) secure title for Saweto, and 2) develop a replicable, participatory titling process for Ucayali’s native communities. The process will be implemented by DRSAU in future titling projects and also help community leaders participate and monitor efforts to title their lands. Two University of Ucayali student-interns have focused their theses on developing parts of the titling process, thus making a key contribution to the project and gathering invaluable real-life conservation work experience in the process.

Construction of new boundary markers (Photo: DRSAU)

DRSAU’s technical teamjoined ProPurús for a month-long expedition to Saweto to conduct all the necessary fieldwork to support the titling proposal. This included an exhaustive socio-economic study, complete soils analysis and  demarcation of boundaries around the 80,000-hectare territory. Results were presented during a binational workshop focused on improving Ucayali’s titling process and advancing the case of Saweto. Participants included representatives of the Ucayali government, NGOs working in both Ucayali and neighboring Acre, Ashéninka leaders from Brazil, and representatives from the Acre regional government. At the workshop’s conclusion, all participants signed a document declaring the importance of titling Saweto and other Ashéninka indigenous lands on the Tamaya.

As of March 2013, all technical reports (socio-economic study, soil analysis, GIS products) needed to support the formal titling proposal have been completed; however, serious obstacles remain. Foremost is working with Ucayali’s forestry agency to annul two inactive forestry concessions that overlap Saweto’s lands. In addition, part of Saweto was categorized as permanent production forest, meaning that the government has set aside these lands for timber production not native communities. These problems occurred because, without legal title, the people of Saweto were invisible to forestry technicians in Pucallpa and Lima who divided up their lands for timber production.

The titling field team, upper Tamaya (Photo: UAC)

The good news is that Saweto’s struggles have been recognized by senior officials in the Ucayali government who are lending their help to title Saweto. In a region of rampant illegal logging and corruption, titling Saweto is viewed as an opportunity to  achieve social justice in the Tamaya region, recognize the rights of its Asheninka citizens to their territorial lands, and prevent the continued illegal logging in an area of the Peru – Brazil borderlands of exceptional conservation value.


Ssee National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog for an update on Edwin Chota’s struggle against illegal loggers.

Evidence of Isolated Tribe Found in the Murunahua Territorial Reserve

March 2013:

A monitoring patrol of the upper Yurua River uncovered evidence of people in voluntary isolation living inside the Murunahua Territorial Reserve. The patrol was a collaborative effort between the Alto Purús National Park, local community vigilance committees, protection agents from the Organización Regional Aidesep Ucayali (ORAU), the Yurua indigenous federation, Aconadiysh, and UAC’s sister organization, ProPurús.


A shelter constructed from palm fronds used by isolated people (ProPurús 2013)

The expedition was organized to investigate reports from local people of illegal logging inside the Reserve. While traveling upstream, members discovered what they believed was a logging trail leading up the river bank and into the forest. Approximately 10 meters from the river they found the camp. It was comprised of  eight shelters constructed of palm fronds each with its own cooking fire. Broken turtle shells and various palm frond baskets were scattered about. It seemed as if the camp had been used within the previous few days. After taking a few photos, expedition members left the area immediately and traveled back downstream. Fortunately, there were no signs of illegal logging in the area.


The evidence confirms, once again, that at least one isolated tribe lives inside the Murunahua Territorial Reserve, and refutes claims made by government officials and the timber and oil industries that the tribes no longer live there or exist at all. Established  in 1997 to protect people in voluntary isolation, the Reserve covers 480,000 hectares located between the Alto Purús National Park and Brazil. The area of the camp is relatively close to the Envira River where a different tribe was photographed two years ago.


Local villagers refer to the isolated people as their “brothers” and often find their camps during the dry season, usually in July or August. This is when the nomadic hunters and gatherers leave the remote headwaters to collect turtle eggs on large rivers like the Yurua. Finding a camp in March, however, is quite rare. Local people believe that mahogany loggers working in western part of the Reserve along the Huacapistea and Mapuya rivers have displaced the tribe, forcing them to move closer to the Yurua.  UAC documented widespread illegal logging in the Reserve in 2010 and again in 2012.


Shelters made by isolated hunters and gatherers on the upper Yurua River (ProPurús 2013)

Members of the Yurua Vigilance Committees (ProPurús 2013)











The Murunahua Reserve is part of the buffer zone of the Alto Purús National Park. In order to help protect both the Murunahua and the Park, Peru’s park service, Sernanp, and ProPurús have organized 20 men and women from local communities to serve as volunteer Park guards. ProPurús provides patrolling equipment and technical training that the committees need to effectively protect the Reserve and Park, as well as their own titled communal lands.

Yurua Vigilance Committee members and their families (ProPurús 2013)

Additional information:

2012 UAC report on illegal logging in the Murunahua

2010 UAC report in illegal logging in the Murunahua

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