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Peru to abolish uncontacted tribe’s reserve, says group

uncontacted indian tribe in the Amazon
Uncontacted indigenous group near the Brazil-Peru border. Photo released earlier this year by Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/Survival

Territory inhabited by an uncontacted Amazon tribe in Peru is again up for grabs, warns Survival International.

The indigenous rights’ group says Peru’s Indian Affairs Department (INDEPA) is planning to “abolish” the Murunahua reserve, an area of forest inhabited by an uncontacted branch of the Amerindian tribe. Survival says the group is threatened by illegal loggers that the Peruvian government has failed to control.

The Murunahua made headlines earlier this year when Survival released aerial pictures of the group in part of its effort to publicize the threat from illegal loggers. Brazil has already protected the nomadic tribe’s land on its side of the border. Survival said Peru had also agreed to protect the Murunahua’s land, but is now reneging on the deal.

Oil and gas blocks in the western Amazon as of February 2010. Solid yellow indicates blocks already leased out to companies. Hashed yellow indicates proposed blocks or blocks still in the negotiation phase. Protected areas shown are those considered strictly protected by the IUCN (categories I to III). Image modified from Finer at al. (2008): Oil and Gas Projects in the Western Amazon: Threats to Wilderness, Biodiversity, and Indigenous Peoples.

“The uncontacted Indians living in this reserve have been the unwitting victims of a really cynical maneuver by the Peruvian authorities,” said Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry in a statement. “Since the government has done nothing to stop the influx of loggers, the Indians seem to have fled into Brazil – so now the government says it will abolish the reserve as the Indians are no longer living there.”

Survival says that a recent investigation by the U.S.-based Upper Amazon Conservancy found five logging camps inside the Murunahua reserve, which was established in 1997.

The loggers are a danger to the Murunahua because they may expose the tribe to new diseases. First contact between loggers and another Murunahua group in 1995 resulted in a 50 percent die-off of the indigenous community.

Jose Meirelles, formerly the uncontacted Indians expert at Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department (FUNAI), attributed the Peruvian government’s decision to interest in logging energy exploration.

“It is completely absurd to abolish the reserve,” he said in a statement. “I would bet all my money that this is down to the interests of illegal logging and oil.”

More than 75 percent of the Peruvian Amazon has been allocated for oil and gas exploration. Some of the concessions overlay protected areas and indigenous reserves.

Survival International is calling on supporters to lodge complaints to INDEPA over the decision not to protect Murunahua lands.

“I hope anyone moved by February’s extraordinary images will let the Peruvian government know just what they think of this plan,” said Corry.

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