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Chaco biodiversity expedition suspended

A joint expedition by the Natural History Museum (NHM), London and the Natural History Museum, Asuncion to the dwindling dry forest of the Gran Chaco in Paraguay to record biodiversity, and hopefully uncover ‘hundreds’ of new species, has been suspended by the Paraguayan government. The suspension comes after a local organization voiced concern that the expedition would threaten uncontacted members of the Ayoreo tribe in the forest.

“If this expedition goes ahead we will not be able to understand why you prefer to lose human lives just because the English scientists want to study plants and animals,” the an open letter from Iniciativa Amotocodie (IA) reads in part. “There is too much risk: the people die in the forest frequently from catching white people’s diseases—they get infected by being close.”

However, the NHM countered by arguing that the expedition had taken necessary precautions to avoid any unintentional contact with the tribe, including having a local Ayoreo elder scout ahead of the group.

“We know that when we visit remote areas there may be indigenous people that we need to carefully consider and with the expedition to Paraguay, this has been extremely important to us,” the NHM Press Office told last week. “We’ve considered the whole expedition from the very beginning—not only the impact on the environment but also on the people that live there. We have real concern for uncontacted peoples. They have a right to remain uncontacted.”

The government of Paraguay says it will meet with Ayoreo representatives to discuss concerns regarding the expedition. No one has put a timeline on when or if the expedition will occur.

The Gran Chaco is being rapidly deforested for cattle ranching, agriculture, and logging, threatening not only the biodiversity in the region, but the uncontacted group as well.

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