Upper Amazon Conservancy Investigation Exposes Illegal Logging in Murunahua Reserve

Purús mahogany awaiting processing.

August 2011

Illegal Mahogany Loggers Penetrate Heart of Uncontacted Tribal Reserve in Peru

UCAYALI, Peru — An Upper Amazon Conservancy investigation has exposed an illegal logging camp and an expansive network of forest roads along the border of the Murunahua Reserve for Uncontacted Peoples.

The road system is part of a greater clandestine network that has been building steadily for the past decade in the Yurua River region of the Amazon headwaters in Peru – threatening the survival of some of the last remaining tribes of uncontacted people on Earth. Upper Amazon Conservancy staff, working together with indigenous leaders, partner NGOs and the Peruvian park service, have repeatedly, and explicitly, documented widespread illegal logging in the reserve and the surrounding region.

The Murunahua Territorial Reserve, near the Brazil border in southeast Peru, is home to roaming tribes of voluntarily-isolated peoples and borders the heart of one of the most remote regions of the Amazon basin, the Alto Purús National Park – the very headwaters of the Amazon River.

Most recently, illicit logging has spread to the heart of this sprawling, 1.2 million acre protected area, with a large, quickly expanding network of roads penetrating the interior. Loggers now access remote territory inside the reserve, where they cut highly valuable mahogany trees and sneak the slabs out the ‘back door’, to waterways less frequented by local tribesmen.

Logging camps like this one, photographed during an Upper Amazon Conservancy aerial survey, are appearing in ever-more remote tribal reserve regions of the Purús.

Earlier this year, Upper Amazon Conservancy staff surveyed the region from small aircraft and identified several illegal logging camps inside the reserve.  On the ground, an expedition led by a group of local Asheninka men – part of a newly trained “vigilance committee” organized by UAC and Peru’s park service, documented a large-scale illegal operation along the border of the reserve, including the discovery of massive slabs of fresh-cut mahogany and a live tree marked with an enormous ‘X’.

The new road network serves as a funnel for further settlement by farmers, drug traffickers, hunters and miners, and allows loggers using tractors to drag the mahogany across a watershed divide to the Ucayali River, where the logs are floated downstream to Pucallpa and eventually trucked to Lima.

By the time the wood reaches Ucayali, a regional Amazonian hub, officials are unable to pinpoint its origin and assume it legal, giving it the government permits that allow it to be sold internationally.  While an individual mahogany tree may not make or break an ecosystem, their extraction and sale from these remote protected areas have placed unprecedented pressure on voluntarily isolated peoples in a reserve explicitly established to protect them. These tribes willingly avoid outside contact of any kind. If logging continues unabated, they will have no place to go and their unique culture will be eliminated.

Such activity explicitly violates both the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and the recently-signed Peru-United States Trade Promotion Agreement.

An expedition organized by Upper Amazon Conservancy field staff and the Peruvian Park Service found this tree, marked with an 'X' near a recently abandoned logging camp on the border of the Murunahua Reserve.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, officials at some Peruvian government agencies have publicly and privately confided that they believe the voluntarily-isolated peoples have been driven out of the reserve – and have hinted at abolishing it. Thanks in part to the increasing international pressure brought to bear by UAC’s investigations and revelations, government officials have agreed to work together with the UAC to jointly document the presence of these tribes  – a positive step forward.

In a press release earlier this month, the Peruvian government unequivocally stated its support for both the uncontacted tribes and the Murunahua reserve itself. The Upper Amazon Conservancy salutes INDEPA for its willingness to cooperate in saving this special place and culture, and will continue to work to ensure that the government keeps that promise.

The Upper Amazon Conservancy’s investigations are part of a larger effort here to protect the greater Alto Purus ecosystem; one of the wildest places left on the planet – home to still undocumented species of plants and wildlife, voluntarily-isolated peoples and a carbon sink of international significance.

For more information, contact Chris Fagan at email hidden; JavaScript is required or Francisco Estremadoyro at email hidden; JavaScript is required, or see our website at www.upperamazon.org.

Upper Amazon Conservancy Leading Research on Peru’s Coca Frontier

July 2011

The large-scale cultivation of coca – seen above – is becoming increasingly common in remote areas of the Purús region.

Upper Amazon Conservancy director Chris Fagan and Professor David Salisbury of the University of Richmond, a member of UAC’s advisory board, recently co-authored a study, published this month in GeoJournal, on the advancing coca frontier in Peru’s Amazon region and its mounting socio-economic and conservation impacts. Peru is now believed to be the world’s largest exporter of coca, the plant used in the production of cocaine. Large-scale coca cultivation is penetrating once remote and isolated areas of the Purús, followed by traffickers who access the backcountry by the same river trails and forest roads used by illegal loggers. The roads and access pave the way for further environmental destruction, settlement and illegal activity, and threaten the sanctity of tribal reserves inhabited by some of the last voluntarily-isolated indigenous tribes on the planet. While coca has for centuries been used by local indigenous peoples for medicinal and theraputic purposes, international pressure from drug traffickers, who have recently entered the area, is mounting and plantations are becoming larger and more widespread, particularly along the region’s waterways. The study incorporated GIS work, aerial monitoring and field research, leading Fagan and Salisbury to the conclusion that despite the region’s relative remoteness, coca production is already having serious socio-economic and conservation impacts.

Small agricultural clearings like this one, deep in the Alto Purús National Park, have become increasingly common – and many have grown substantially in recent years.

To read the author’s version of the recently published study, click here. To read the final published version in the GeoJournal, click here. For more information, contact  researcher and Upper Amazon Conservancy Director Chris Fagan at email hidden; JavaScript is required. ———- To read more about the Upper Amazon Conservancy and its work in Peru, see our FACT SHEET (PDF 412K) or visit our website at www.upperamazon.org.

ProPurús is Born

January 2011

The Upper Amazon Conservancy is excited to announce the creation of ProPurús, its Peruvian partner organization and registered non-profit group that will support our efforts on the ground in Lima and the Upper Amazon region surrounding the Alto Purús National Park.

ProPurús will be based in Lima, with field offices in Puerto Esperanza and Puerto Breu on the Alto Purús and Yurúa rivers, respectively.

ProPurús recently opened a new office in Puerto Esperanza, which will serve as 'home base' for our hard-working field staff in the Alto Purús region.

The group will be led by experienced Peruvian conservationist Francisco Estremadoyro, a native of Lima who has for decades has deftly navigated both the concrete jungle of Peru’s sprawling capital city and the real thing in the Amazon basin. Estremadoyro, based in Lima, will work closely with José Borgo, who has spent his life in the Amazon working closely with indigenous tribes in remote, isolated areas like the Alto Purús. Borgo was born in Pucallpa, along the Ucayali River, and served as chief of the Agrarian Agency, a branch of the Ministry of Agriculture. Borgo will work from the ProPurús Puerto Esperanza branch.

Estremadoyro and Borgo will lead our field staff and work directly with officials in Lima and the various tribal groups and leaders in the Purús region on projects intended to strengthen the region’s protected areas and build indigenous conservation capacity in the Alto Purús, Yurua and adjacent headwater regions.

ProPurús will work closely with both The Upper Amazon Conservancy staff and partner groups in Lima, including SERNANP, the Peruvian Park Service, to promote collaboration and goodwill.

Coordination with local people on all levels is, and has always been, an integral part of the work of the Upper Amazon Conservancy – and will become the focus of its sister organization, ProPurús.

As our organization expands and the issues become more complicated, we’re proud to work together with ProPurús, confident in our staff and certain our successes will grow.

Pro-Purus director Francisco Estramadoyro with Asheninka children in the village of Dulce Gloria, near the Murunahua Reserve for Voluntarily Isolated Peoples.

José Borgo (right), of the Pro-Purús field staff with an indigenous Brazilian man on a recent expedition on the Yurúa River.

Check back frequently for updates from both our Upper Amazon and ProPurús staff on important issues facing the Amazon region.

For more information about ProPurús,
contact Francisco Estramadoyro email hidden; JavaScript is required.


To read more about the Upper Amazon Conservancy and its work in Peru, see our FACT SHEET (PDF 412K) or visit our website at www.upperamazon.org.


Help Wanted: Join Forces with our Indigenous Partners in the Upper Amazon

Training and certifying volunteer park guards is one of many tasks undertaken by the Upper Amazon Conservancy.

August 2011

The Upper Amazon Conservancy and its Peruvian partner, ProPurús, need help.

We are a small organization but growing quickly, with an office in Lima and two field offices in the greater Alto Purús region.  We pride ourselves in spending as much time as possible in the field, where we work with local people to understand the social, ethical and environmenal issues facing the region.

Our efforts are gaining international attention, we’ve trained dozens of voluntary park guards in the communities surrounding the Alto Purús and our constant, day-to-day presence in these remote areas assures the perserverance and dedication necessary to assure our goals are attained.

Right now, we’re actively recruiting graduate students and researchers interested in pursuing research on a wide range of subjects, and we’re accepting donations that will go directly to the purchase of gear that’s essential for our crews and indigenous partners to be effective advocates in the field. Our needs may seem simple – gasoline, small boat motors, GPS units and laptop computers, but in remote regions like the Alto Purús, even the most basic supplies are scarce.

If you are interested in helping out, buying equipment or donating to the cause, please click here for more information.


To read more about the Upper Amazon Conservancy and its work in Peru, see our FACT SHEET (PDF 412K) or visit our website at www.upperamazon.org.

Narco-Traffickers Threaten Tribes Near Purús

Increasing pressure in the regions surrounding Peru and Brazil’s protected areas has allowed access to narco-traffickers.

August 2011

“SAO PAULO (AP) — Suspected Peruvian drug traffickers recently overran a base of the National Indian Foundation in a remote region of Brazil’s Amazon, the foundation said Tuesday. The base was “invaded and looted late July by Peruvian drug traffickers” who were armed and chased away members of an isolated tribe living in the area, said the statement from the foundation, which is known as Funai and oversees indigenous issues in Brazil.”


Voluntarily isolated tribes everywhere are facing new and unprecedented pressures – and the region near the Peru-Brazil border, very near to the Purús, has recently come under international scrutiny.

As pressure mounts, Peru’s protected areas, including the Alto Purús, will become ever more important. Read a follow-up from CNN here. For a Spanish version from El Comercio, Peru’s leading daily, click here.


To read more about the Upper Amazon Conservancy and its work in Peru, see our FACT SHEET (PDF 412K) or visit our website at www.upperamazon.org.

Upper Amazon Conservancy Making Headlines

June 2011

The Upper Amazon Conservancy prides itself on the time it spends in the field, working hand in hand with indigenous groups, local community leaders and the Peruvian Park Service. UAC’s grassroots efforts are increasingly attracting the attention of a range of media outlets, from  National Geographic to the Miami Herald, allowing us to help raise awareness of issues effecting the Purús, its unspoiled ecosystems and the voluntarily-isolated tribes of the region.

Our efforts are paying off.

From National Geographic :

“Peru says it will bolster protections for uncontacted tribes roaming the deep Amazon after a public row erupted last week that sent indigenous affairs officials scrambling for cover.

The debate began in recent days after officials from the outgoing administration of president Alan Garcia let slip a series of statements hinting at plans to modify—and perhaps even revoke—protected status for two so-called territorial reserves set aside for isolated indigenous groups and the rain forest that harbors them.

As many as 15 nomadic or seminomadic indigenous groups are believed to inhabit remote stretches of eastern Peru in willful isolation from the rest of the world. They figure among the very last uncontacted tribes on Earth. That’s not an arbitrary number; it’s based on extensive documentation of sightings of furtive tribespeople or the vestiges they leave behind—footprints, spears, ceramic pots, shelters—as they move through the forest.”

From the Miami Herald:

Industrial logging is pushing ever deeper into the area, making mahogany the leading front in the ever-growing battle for control of the resource-rich Peruvian Amazon. But the threat goes far beyond any single species, said Chris Fagan, director of the Upper Amazon Conservancy.

Deforestation and the quickly advancing logging frontier have forced still-uncontacted people into violent conflict with settlers, while threatening the sanctity of one of the last, most bio-diverse places on Earth. And scientists fear for the region’s vast forests, which act as an enormous sponge, soaking in the pollutants responsible for climate change.

“This isn’t just about mahogany anymore,” Fagan said. “The world has a stake in what is happening here.”


For more information on the Upper Amazon Conservancy’s programs, or to talk directly with a member of our staff, contact Chris Fagan at email hidden; JavaScript is required.


To read more about the Upper Amazon Conservancy and its work in Peru, see our FACT SHEET (PDF 412K) or visit our website at www.upperamazon.org.



UAC Response to Wikileaks Cable on Peruvian Mahogany

March 2011

A cable leaked on February 2nd through Wikileaks reveals that, in 2006, the Peruvian government reported 70‐90% of its mahogany exports were illegally harvested using “document falsification, timber extraction outside the concession boundaries and links to bribes.” Instead of following laws limiting mahogany extraction to commercial concessions, INRENA (Peru’s former National Institution for Natural Resources) sources, including the then‐US ambassador James Struble, documented illegal loggers taking advantage of indigenous communities by paying below‐market prices for mahogany within their reserves. The leak also exposed that INRENA knew 60% of its commercial mahogany concessions failed to meet management standards and that no concessions met high management standards.

The government responded in El Comercio on March 4th dismissing the relevance of the leaks, saying they are “old practices” from 2006 and that the problem of illegal logging has since been eliminated.

UAC believes the statements made by the government in El Comercio are 100% incorrect. Minister of Environment Antonio Brack’s declaration that “every cut mahogany log is controlled and georeferenced” is simply false. UAC reports from 2009 and 2010 document logging camps extracting mahogany trees in protected areas and indigenous lands. Illegal logging is a problem now more than ever.

Related Links:

The leaked cable.

The Peruvian Government response.

Survival International’s article on the leaks.

El Mundo (a Spanish newspaper) response: