The destruction of 3,600 hectares (8,900 acres) of the Gran Chaco forest in Paraguay by large Brazilian cattle ranching companies has led to a legal complaint filed by a local indigenous-rights organization, since the land in question was one of the last refuges of a group of uncontacted indigenous people in the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode tribe. The loss of the forest was revealed in part by satellite images of the remote area.
“I am very worried about this destruction because we don’t know where exactly the people still in the forest are living. I have a sister among them. This is why we don’t want the outsiders to destroy more of the forest with their bulldozers,” Ojinai, an Ayoreo man, told Survival International, a global NGO devoted to indigenous rights.
The recent destruction has spurred the local organization, The Support Group for the Totobiegosode (GAT), to file a legal complaint against Brazilian cattle companies, River Plate and BBC S.A., with environmental authorities.
“These firms did not have a license from the Secretariat of the Environment. We have observed and noted the destruction of forest in a 2,300 hectare area, and another of 1,300 hectares,” Juan Rivarola, an official with Paraguay’s Secretariat of the Environment, told the AFP. Rivarola said that government officials had visited the site and confirmed the destruction of indigenous territory.
The legal complaint is only the most recent in a long history conflict in the region between the forest and indigenous groups on the one hand and agriculture, cattle-ranching, and logging on the other. Indigenous groups have fought drawn out legal battles to gain back land that had been handed out to corporations for total conversion.
“These ranchers, much like the Totobiegosode, have nowhere left to hide,” Stephen Corry head of Survival International said in a statement. “Satellite imagery makes it almost impossible for widespread deforestation to go unnoticed, but authorities must act before this happens, not after the forests have already been torn down.”
On top of destruction of their forest home, the uncontacted Ayoreo-Totobiegosode risk high incidences of mortality if they come into contact with outsiders, since uncontacted indigenous people are highly susceptible to disease. A scientific expedition to the Gran Chaco by the Natural History Museum (NHM) to study the area’s little known flora and fauna was recently called off due to concerns that the researchers could pose a threat to indigenous people if they accidently came into contact.
The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people in the Gran Chaco are South America’s last indigenous people outside of the Amazon. According to Survival International, the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode practice small-scale agriculture of squash, beans and melons, while hunting in the forest for wild pig and tortoises.
(11/15/2010) 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 member of the Ayoreo tribe in the forest.
(07/07/2010) The man had set up camp and was preparing to cook live turtles for a meal when he was seen by people he did not know. He hid behind a tree and then fled from the camp into the forest, abandoning his uncooked turtles and a clay pot behind.
(01/20/2010) Indigenous rights organization, Survival International, has awarded Brazilian cattle company, Yaguarete Porá S.A., its ‘Greenwashing Award 2010′ for destroying indigenous peoples’ forest—including uncontacted natives—and calling it conservation.
(12/09/2009) A Brazilian ranching company is bulldozing land within UNESCO Chaco Biosphere Reserve in Paraguay, home to the only uncontacted natives outside of the Amazon in South America. While the UNESCO status provides no legal protections to the area, it is meant as an international marker to protect the tribe of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode and the forest they inhabit.
(11/19/2008) An indigenous rights’ group has sounded the alarm over a new threat to an uncontacted tribe in Paraguay.