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Giving the Amazon rainforest back to the Awa tribe

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Logging in the Brazilian Amazon has had a devastating effect on the rainforest and its indigenous people. However, a new operation by the army, air force and military police is designed to save an endangered tribe – by keeping loggers off their land.

It took Pira’I two small steps to get up into the helicopter, but those steps bridged two completely different worlds.

Pira’I is a member of a 350-strong tribe called the Awa. They live in the last islands of rainforest in what is now the extreme eastern edge of the Amazon.

He grew up in a tiny nomadic tribal group, completely separate from the rest of the world.

Now, together with his friend Hamo, he was taking his first ever flight, leaving the jungle where they have lived all their lives.

They gave me a nervous smile through the window, then the engine roared and their faces vanished in a great eddy of leaves and dust as the helicopter rose up into the air.

This was a momentous trip for them, and for the entire tribe.

Pira’I was one of two taken in a helicopter to see the destruction of farmers’ homes

The Awa are one of very few hunter-gatherer communities left in the Amazon basin.

Survival International, a pressure group that campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, has described the Awa as “the most endangered tribe on the planet”.

Over the last couple of decades illegal loggers and farmers have invaded their ancestral lands, destroying the forest.

I’d asked Pira’I what it was like growing up in the forest.

“We were always on the run,” he told me. “We would find a place to sleep, then the loggers would arrive again to cut down our trees and we would go on the run again.”

Pira’I and his family – like most of the Awa – were forced to give up their traditional lifestyle and move into villages. Incredibly, though, a few dozen Awa are holding out.

They remain uncontacted, living in the last stands of jungle in this region.

“It is a miracle they are not dead,” one of the officers of Brazil’s Indigenous People’s Department, Funai, tells me.

Video: Watch a preview of Justin Rowlatt’s Newsnight film from the Brazilian Amazon

With his extravagant beard, Leonardo Lenin, lives up to his dramatic name. He has dedicated his life to fighting on behalf of the tribal people of Brazil.

“This is a story of resistance,” he says.

“For 514 years our culture has been trying to dominate their culture, but they have survived.”

And, thanks to the efforts of people like Leo Lenin and Survival International they are now much more likely to do so.

That’s because for once there is some good news from the Amazon.

I had come back to witness the Brazilian government’s unprecedented effort to drive out the invaders and to take back the tribe’s ancestral lands.

It is called Operation Awa and is on an impressive scale.

The Brazilian army, air force and military police are working alongside Brazil’s environmental protection service. The operation is co-ordinated by Funai.

Farmers who have illegally settled on the indigenous reserve that comprises the Awa’s territory, have been served notice to leave. And they seem to be doing so.

The government has offered them plots elsewhere in the state.

I watched a family load up a truck with everything they own – including the tiles from the roof of the farm they’d lived in for 18 years.

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Walking Dead

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The Amazon’s endangered species

Study says some rainforest species are doomed to disappear even if deforestation were halted overnight

Brazilian tapir. Photograph: Morales/Getty Images

Tree ocelot

These thick-furred nocturnal cats live in trees. Road building and the expansion of farming are expected to substantially reduce their numbers.

Hoary-throated spinetail

Land clearance for cattle ranching and soy production in the Amazon basin is expected to devastate the last 5,000 of these critically endangered birds.

White-cheeked spider monkey

The territories they occupy are fragmented by major highways. Many populations are threatened by agriculture, in particular enormous soy bean plantations and the roads that service them.

Rio Branco antbird

Critically endangered by deforestation and expected to suffer from proposed changes to Brazil’s forest code reducing the amount of land that owners must maintain as forest.

Brazilian tapir

Extinct in parts of Brazil and under threat elsewhere in the region. (above)

Yellow-headed poison frog

Dendrobates leucomelas, Yellow-headed Poison Arrow Frog

Forest fires, logging and agriculture are major threats.

Source: The Guardian

NB: I added the ocelot and frog images…

Could you Shoot an Awá?

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These are Awá children, they are being shot and killed by the loggers

‘They’re killing us’: world’s most endangered tribe cries for help

Logging companies keen to exploit Brazil’s rainforest have been accused by human rights organisations of using gunmen to wipe out the Awá, a tribe of just 355. Survival International, with backing from Colin Firth, is campaigning to stop what a judge referred to as ‘genocide’

Illegal logging in the Amazon has no scruples

 

Undercover investigators film Link to this video

Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world’s greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.

Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil‘s National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.

It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as “a real genocide”. People are pouring on to the Awá’s land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known as pistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.

This week Survival International will launch a new campaign to highlight the plight of the Awá, backed by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth. In a video to be launched on Wednesday, Firth will ask the Brazilian government to take urgent action to protect the tribe. The 51-year-old, who starred in last year’s hit movie The King’s Speech, and came to prominence playing Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, delivers an appeal to camera calling on Brazil’s minister of justice to send in police to drive out the loggers.

The Awá are one of only two nomadic hunter-gathering tribes left in the Amazon. According to Survival, they are now the world’s most threatened tribe, assailed by gunmen, loggers and hostile settler farmers.

Their troubles began in earnest in 1982 with the inauguration of a European Economic Community (EEC) and World Bank-funded programme to extract massive iron ore deposits found in the Carajás mountains. The EEC gave Brazil $600m to build a railway from the mines to the coast, on condition that Europe received a third of the output, a minimum of 13.6m tons a year for 15 years. The railway cut directly through the Awá’s land and with the railway came settlers. A road-building programme quickly followed, opening up the Awá’s jungle home to loggers, who moved in from the east.

It was, according to Survival’s research director, Fiona Watson, a recipe for disaster. A third of the rainforest in the Awá territory in Maranhão state in north-east Brazil has since been destroyed and outsiders have exposed the Awá to diseases against which they have no natural immunity.

“The Awá and the uncontacted Awá are really on the brink,” she said. “It is an extremely small population and the forces against them are massive. They are being invaded by loggers, settlers and cattle ranchers. They rely entirely on the forest. They have said to me: ‘If we have no forest, we can’t feed our children and we will die’.”

But it appears that the Awá also face a more direct threat. Earlier this year an investigation into reports that an Awá child had been killed by loggers found that their tractors had destroyed the Awá camp.

“It is not just the destruction of the land; it is the violence,” said Watson. “I have talked to Awá people who have survived massacres. I have interviewed Awá who have seen their families shot in front of them. There are immensely powerful people against them. The land-grabbers use pistoleros to clear the land. If this is not stopped now, these people could be wiped out. This is extinction taking place before our eyes.”

Deforested areas in Brazil. Illustration: Giulio Frigeri

What is most striking about the Funai undercover video of the loggers – apart from the sheer size of the trunks – is the absence of jungle in the surrounding landscape. Once the landscape would have been lush rainforest. Now it has been clear-felled, leaving behind just grass and scrub and only a few scattered clumps of trees.

Such is the Awá’s affinity with the jungle and its inhabitants that if they find a baby animal during their hunts they take it back and raise it almost like a child, to the extent that the women will sometimes breastfeed the creature. The loss of their jungle has left them in a state of despair. “They are chopping down wood and they are going to destroy everything,” said Pire’i Ma’a, a member of the tribe. “Monkeys, peccaries, tapir, they are all running away. I don’t know how we are going to eat – everything is being destroyed, the whole area.

“This land is mine, it is ours. They can go away to the city, but we Indians live in the forest. They are going to kill everything. Everything is dying. We are all going to go hungry, the children will be hungry, my daughter will be hungry, and I’ll be hungry too.”

Source: BBC New Read more

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