Adrian Bridge, The Daily Telegraph, September 12, 2014
Visitors to the rainforests of the Manu National Park in Peru are being urged not to take part in “human safaris” aimed at providing voyeuristic sightings of members of the country’s last surviving uncontacted tribes.
The call for restraint comes from Survival International, a pressure group fighting for the rights of tribal peoples worldwide.
And it follows hot on the heels of disturbing reports of an increase in encounters between outsiders and the uncontacted Indian tribes of Peru.
Last weekend, a missionary travelling in a tour company’s boat along the Madre de Dios river bordering the national park left clothes and food on the banks intended for members of the uncontacted Maschco-Piro tribe. At the same time, news emerged of an incident in May involving six Maschco-Piro women who entered a tourist lodge deep in the national park itself and removed metallic cooking pots.
“We are very nervous about these developments and are urging all tourists to remain clear of the affected areas,” said Rebecca Spooner, Survival International’s campaigner for Peruvian tribal people. “These people have no immunity to diseases we take for granted such as flu and measles – diseases that can be contracted through wearing our clothes. Such gestures may be well intended, but there is a real risk that through unsolicited contact, an entire people could be wiped out.”
The Manu Biosphere Reserve in the western part of the Amazon is one of the world’s greatest primary rainforests and home to more than 1,000 birds, 15,000 plants, countless types of trees and rare mammal species such as the jaguar and the giant river otter.
Most visitors are more than happy to spend their time enjoying the spectacular scenery and the extraordinary scents and sounds of the forest.
But there is an inevitable frisson about knowing that deep within that rainforest there are a number of “uncontacted” tribes, peoples who, while not wholly oblivious to the world around them, have chosen to keep themselves apart.
The main threat to Peru’s estimated 15 uncontacted tribes comes from illegal loggers and miners wanting to exploit the resources on their lands. But there is a huge danger from curious tourists too – encouraged by companies that offer trips in which, they suggest, there may be a sighting of loin cloth-wearing tribes people.
“Two years ago we first started getting reports of companies seeking to 'sex-up’ their tours by offering possible sightings of tribes people and we made a huge complaint,” said Spooner. “The laws were tightened forbidding publicising such tours or using images of the tribes people on websites.
Operators were also instructed not to stop if tribes people were sighted along the banks of the Madre de Dios.
Survival International is concerned that “human safaris” in Peru could escalate to the level of the extremely damaging tours through the Jarawa reserve in the Andaman Islands of India and is urging a temporary halt to tourist activity in the Manu National Park – and the affected neighbouring areas until the situation stablises.
Responsible tourist companies in the region are already heeding many of the guidelines and advising clients that itineraries may have to change at short notice should further tribal sightings be reported.
“We are very aware of the dangers to uncontacted tribes of diseases visitors from the outside world may carry and if we are asked not to take our groups into the national park then we don’t,” said Quinn Meyer, the founder of crees, a wildlife research centre in the Manu which aims at promoting a sustainable future for the region, and which last year started running tours.
“If one of our boats did spot some uncontacted tribes on the river bank we would immediately turn round. We would never treat it as a photo opportunity.
“Besides there is also a danger issue for us. The last thing we’d want is for one of our guests to be shot by a bow and arrow.”
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This article was written by Adrian Bridge from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.