Taken from www.zgf.de and written by Rob Williams
The last three days have seen an incredible thing happen in SE Peru. Some 60-80 indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation (often called “uncontacted”) have appeared on the Las Piedras River, on the beaches opposite the village of Monte Salvado. They are considered to be of Mashco Piro tribe. They were asking through signs and shared words for plantains and red clothing. So far everything has been peaceful. Three years ago there was an attack where a 14 year old boy was shot in the abdomen with an arrow and as a precaution the 53 inhabitants of Monte Salvado are asking for an evacuation.
This is occurring just 160 km from the main square of the regional capital, Puerto Maldonado, now a bustling Amazonian city and gold mining hub, and just 118 km from the recently paved Interoceanic highway uniting Brazil with the Pacific.
Frankfurt Zoological Society has been coordinating with the local indigenous Federation FENAMAD and regional government and is offering logistical support for a voluntary evacuation of the people from the community of Monte Salvado. We were keeping quiet to protect all people involved, but since the news broke yesterday in the Peruvian news (http://www.rpp.com.pe/2013-06-26-pobladores-piden-evacuacion-por-presencia-de-nativos-no-contactados-noticia_607821.html) there will surely now be many articles and opinions on this. We therefore want to give some background to the unusual event, the history of the region and the people involved. We hope to contribute to the understanding of what is happening and why?
LAST GREAT WILDERNESS
This region of Peru is one of the last great wilderness areas on earth. Over the last 4 decades several areas have been protected, starting with the creation of Manu National Park 40 years ago, then the creation of the Alto Purus National Park in 2004, and finally the creation of 4 territorial reserves that were established to protect the indigenous groups living in voluntary isolation. Peru has one of the best legal systems, offering the strongest protection for Indigenous Groups in Voluntary Isolation. In general no access to these areas is allowed, but there is a remaining dispute on hydrocarbon concessions overlapping territorial reserves. These protected areas in South Eastern Peru now form one of the largest complexes of protected rainforest in the world and are adjacent to similar areas in Brazil. In addition to being the home of some of the last Indigenous Groups in Voluntary Isolation it is also one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with a globally outstanding variety of plant and animal species, and is an important carbon store.
Protected areas and territorial reserves around Manu National Park (photo courtesy of André Bärtschi)
In the 1990s illegal loggers extracting Big-leaf Mahogany Swietenia macrophylla, the most valuable hardwood in the Amazon, invaded much of the area along the Las Piedras river and other tributaries of the Madre de Dios river. Up to 5,000 people were considered to have been working on the Las Piedras river alone at one time. Firm action by the state and support by conservation NGOs led to order being restored and the limits of the parks and territorial reserves being generally respected subsequently. Fortunately, much of the area is very remote and difficult to access, with fluvial transport being the only real option, thus making control of the region relatively easy.
THE LAST FEW PEOPLE IN THE WORLD LIVING A TRULY TRADITIONAL LIFE
Indigenous Groups in Voluntary Isolation are now only found in the Amazon basin, mainly in Brazil and Peru, but with some small groups remaining in adjacent border areas of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. These are the last few people in the world living a truly traditional life, being 100% dependent on their immediate environment for all their needs. They lack resistance to common diseases and exposure to these can easily kill them. Of the 7+ billion people on earth only a few thousand still live in this way.
The Mashco Piro are one such group. They live in the Purus arc, a geological formation dividing two major drainages of the Amazon, that of the Ucayali and the Manu river. They speak a language in the Piro or Yine linguistic group, and can be understood by Yine villagers who live adjacent to the Territorial Reserves. The word Mashco was a derogatory term that originated from missionaries for natives.
Indigenous Groups in Voluntary Isolation are now only found in the Amazon basin, mainly in Brazil and Peru, but with some small groups remaining in adjacent border areas of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.These are the last few people in the world living a truly traditional life, being 100% dependent on their immediate environment for all their needs.
Anthropological studies suggest that they had started to settle but then abandoned agriculture and became nomadic again to avoid contact and now live by hunting and gathering and some small plantings. They seem to move seasonally from the headwaters in the wet season following the rivers downstream and living on the beaches in the dry season when they harvest Podecnemis unifilis turtle eggs.
The most famous incident involving the Mashco Piro was the conflict that took place with the rubber baron Carlos Fermín Fitzcarrald whose killing of them is dramatized in Werner Herzog’s 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo”.
In the last few years there have been increasing sightings and evidence of Mashco Piro groups in the areas adjacent to the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve and Manu National Park. Whilst most of these incidents have been peaceful there have also been various hostile contacts that have left people dead and wounded. In both Manu and the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve they have entered control posts and taken pots and pans, string, machetes and even clothing.
Missionaries originally established the village of Monte Salvado by bringing Yine from the Ucayali river in order to make contact with the Mashco Piro. The missionaries have long since gone but have left behind a remote isolated community that have little option but to log the forest that has been titled to them and collaborate with illegal loggers and drug traffickers that plague the region. Surely, it is time to consider relocating the village, for the safety of both the Mashco Piro and the villagers themselves, providing new livelihoods for the latter nearer to the education and health services they yearn for and more space for the Mashco Piro.
Adjacent to the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve are a series of forestry concessions. Many of these have been over-harvested and are now effectively abandoned with the concession holders no longer paying their fees to the government. Inadequate control and corruption has meant that these areas have been largely over-exploited and are no longer of commercial interest. Such concessions could therefore easily be annexed to the Territorial Reserve allowing an increased area of movement for the Mashco Piro. It is worth noting that there are a few concessions that have operated legally and provide certified timber but if these areas are being used by Mashco Piro it is surely in their interest, as well as that of the loggers themselves and the consumers eager to buy certified timber, to find a solution that compensates the concession holders and to withdraw the concession licenses.
MASSIVE INCREASE IN DEFORESTATION
This news coincidentally comes the week that a new study is publicized that shows that Peru has the fastest rate of increase of deforestation in the Amazon (it jumped a massive 47% between 2011 and 2012).
[Full article available at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0626-amazon-deforestation.html?fbgnpg]
If the Peruvian Government and society is serious about protecting the Indigenous Groups in Voluntary Isolation immediate action is needed to reduce threats to them and expand the area available to them for their seasonal movements. The Manu-Purus block is home to one of the last remaining large populations of these peoples and despite being one of the most remote and wild areas on earth it is being pressurized by development:
- To the north-west continuing gas exploration encroaches on the Nahua-Nanti Territorial Reserve and the buffer zone of the Manu National Park, with increasing activity in the area as the companies prepare for seismic surveys. Seehttp://news.mongabay.com/2013/0624-hill-explosions-manu.html
- A legal proposal in congress aims to get a road or rail connection through both the Madre de Dios Territorial Reserve, the Purus National Park and the Purus Communal Reserve. The motive is supposedly “national security” but it might easily facilitate intensive illegal logging.
- Drug trafficking has been increasing in the area, and local people report virtually daily flights by small aircraft and also use of the Las Piedras river for shipping Peruvian produced Cocaine to Brazil and Bolivia.
- Illegal logging continues in the northern edges of the complex.
- Illegal gold-mining is increasing along the Pariamanu river in the south.
We call upon the Peruvian Authorities to take decisive action immediately. As there is no other continent in the world where Indigenous Groups in Voluntary Isolation exist, Peru bears a huge responsibility to protect its most innocent and vulnerable citizens.