BRAZIL USES RADAR TO PROTECT ISOLATED TRIBES – Airborne heat sensors will pinpoint Indians at risk – Campaigners hope move will halt Amazon slaughter

Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 21, 2008

Thursday November 20 2008 00.01 GMT

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro – The Guardian (

The Brazilian government has said it will employ heat-seeking radar in a last-ditch attempt to save the Members of an unknown Amazon basin tribe fire arrows at a spotter plane in May. The high altitude sensor-carrying planes will be unobtrusive. Photograph - Reuterscountry’s remaining groups of isolated Indians. The body-heat sensors will be mounted on a Brazilian air force jet normally used to monitor rainforest destruction and will be used to locate an estimated 39 groups of isolated indigenous people, hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest.

The authorities hope the system will help them to locate groups of isolated Indians to protect them from invaders such as loggers, goldminers and ranchers.

Antenor Vaz, the coordinator for isolated tribes at Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, said the system would allow authorities to locate tribes without disturbing their way of life.

“We have been using planes more and more, not just to monitor [isolated tribes] but also to find new references,” he said. But even the use of small planes brought disruption to the tribes because they flew at low altitude, he said.

Brazil’s isolated Indians hit the headlines in May when aerial photographs of a remote tribe near the border with Peru were released. Several tribesmen could be seen firing arrows at the plane.

Vaz said the sensors mounted on planes flying at high altitude meant the tribes would not even know they were being monitored.

By locating Brazil’s last isolated tribes, campaigners hope the process of land demarcation can be speeded up, helping to guarantee the protection of their ancestral lands.

Campaigners say the Amazon may be home to the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world, and the authorities have long grappled with the dilemma of how best to treat indigenous groups who have had little or no contact with outsiders.

For hundreds of years colonisers and explorers have trekked through the jungle, coming into contact Six months ago - Picture released on May 29, 2008 by the Brazilian Indian Protection Foundation (FUNAI) showing members of a recently discovered indigenous tribe, with their bodies painted in bright red staring at the aircraft from which the pictures were taken, in the Amazon region in the Brazilian-Peruvian border. The FUNAI said they have been tracking the tribe for years and now decided to release the pictures to prove the existence of isolated tribes in the Amazon region, and warn about the threat of invasion or extinctionwith isolated tribes, often with catastrophic results. There are thought to have been around 6 million indigenous people when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500. Today there are fewer than 300,000. Violence and western diseases such as flu have devastated many indigenous communities.

In the 1980s thousands of gold prospectors poured into areas inhabited by Yanomami Indians, in northern Brazil, triggering genocide, human rights groups claimed. Some sources say up to 20% of the Yanomami people died in seven years.

Since the late 1980s government policy towards uncontacted tribes has shifted to a “stay away” approach. A handful of sertanistas, or explorers, work in the rainforest trying to locate tribes without coming into direct contact with them.

Fiona Watson, Brazil campaigner for Survival International, an indigenous rights group, said there could be as many as 20 tribes living in the Brazilian Amazon about which the outside world knew nothing. “The idea of the remote sensors means you are not going to put any lives in danger [by making contact],” she said.

She said contact between isolated tribes and government employees had proved disastrous in the past, with 50% of some tribes being wiped out by disease in the first year after contact.

Vaz said the radar’s first mission would be to confirm the existence of isolated tribes in the Amazon state of Mato Grosso, a region that loggers, ranchers and soy farmers have turned into ground zero for Gleison Miranda/FUNAI) rainforest destruction. “The priority will be Mato Grosso where the process of devastation is happening quickest,” he said.

He said members of the military and representatives of the National Indian Foundation would meet soon to plan “when and where” the flyovers would take place.

In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, the president of Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, Marcio Meira, admitted that time was running out for isolated Indians in the region. According to newspaper reports there are only two male members left of one of the region’s tribes, the Piripkura.

“The situation there is an emergency,” Meira said.

Watson said several of the region’s tribes were “facing genocide unless the Brazilian authorites take immediate action to demarcate and protect their land”.



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