WASHINGTON: Threatened by disease and deforestation, the world’s last isolated tribes in the Amazon are on a collision course with modern society like never before, experts say.
Entire cultures of people are the verge of being wiped out in Peru and Brazil, according to a series of papers published this week in the journal Science.
“We are on the threshold of large extinctions of cultures,” Francisco Estremadoyro, director of the Lima-based nonprofit ProPurus, was quoted as saying.
“There is no question that this is a historic moment.”
While it is difficult to know precisely what is going on inside remote tribes, researchers say dangerous encounters with modern people are on the rise.
And not only because of the risk of violence—common ailments like the flu or whooping cough, transmitted accidentally by loggers, news crews, drug traffickers or well-meaning anthropologists, can be even more deadly.
In one case, a fish-bone necklace left by a German researcher decades ago was blamed by villagers along the upper Curanja River for being poisoned. Soon after it was found, a sore throat and fever illness killed around 200 people.
“We were so weak, and some vanished into the forest,” recalled Marcelino Pinedo Cecilio, who grew up planting potatoes and corn and using bamboo arrows, and who remembers running away with his mother the first time they saw people from the outside world in the 1950s.
While other regions of the world—such as the mountains of New Guinea and the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean—are home to remote tribes of people, “by far the largest numbers are found across the Amazon,” said the Science report.
“And it is in Peru that the situation appears most dire,” it added, describing what experts believe are 8,000 people scattered in small bands across the rainforest.
The Peruvian government has set aside three million hectares of protected land, but it may not be enough.
“A surge in sightings and raids in both Peru and Brazil may be a sign that some of the world’s last peoples living outside the global economy are emerging,” said the report.
But even modern technology and knowledge may not be enough to stop wiping out even more people, mainly due to diseases for which tribespeople have no immunity, as well as the lack of enough forest land for food, medicine and materials.