It’s often easy to forget that, along with the forest itself and the wildlife it sustains, people also rely on pristine rainforest environments. Now it looks like the very survival of one previously-uncontacted tribe is under threat as illegal loggers venture into their traditional territory.
In 2010, when a handful of tribe members were first spotted from the air, the sight gripped the world’s press: people who had never before come in contact with the outside world. The tribe is still unnamed, but three weeks ago a few dozen of its members turned up outside the settlement of an Asháninka indigenous community on Brazil’s Envira River, making contact with a settled population for the first time.
It appears the tribe have been driven away from their traditional Peruvian rainforest lands, where they have led a nomadic existence for millennia, by illegal loggers and possibly also drug traffickers, who have started operating in their homelands.
Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department says the tribe took the extraordinary decision to make contact with outsiders at the village of Sympatico in the state of Acre, at least seven days travel by foot and boat from the nearest road. It’s believed there are at least four similar ancient communities living in Acre, totalling around 600 indigenous people, and two more ‘lost’ tribes in Peru itself.
The tribe’s appearance mirrors international concern over the presence of heavily armed loggers in Peru, which is tipped to end the lifestyles of the planet’s last such tribes. The illegal loggers are on a mission to harvest precious hardwoods like mahogany and teak, which are in turn destined for British and US garden furniture.
There’s also a roaring illegal trade in African hardwoods, which is destroying vast tranches of natural forest and means local communities are losing natural resources like food, fuel and medicines.
The tribespeople have international law on their side, which says they have the right to their traditional territories. But illegal loggers in Brazil’s rainforest don’t care about the law. Breaking it goes with the scenery, and the rewards can be rich.
If you want to buy hardwood garden furniture this summer, make sure it comes from a sustainable source. Luckily it’s easier to buy teak grown on plantations with sustainable harvesting. The best way to stay safe is to buy FSC-certified garden furniture, which ensures the plantation’s techniques fulfil rigorous requirements including looking after ecosystems and respecting the rights of indigenous people.