Hidden tribe threatened by outlaw loggers in rainforest

A BRAZILIAN Indian tribe armed with bows and arrows and unseen for years has been spotted in a remote Amazon region where clashes with illegal loggers are threatening its existence, raising further fears about the destruction of the rainforest.

The tiny Jururei tribe numbers only eight or ten members, and is the second "uncontacted" group to be threatened by loggers this month, after a judge approved cutting in an area of the jungle called Rio Pardo.

Accelerating rainforest destruction threatens the tribes. Deforestation in 2003-04 totalled 10,088 square miles, the most in nearly a decade, official figures show.

"The Indians have had conflict with loggers, who are cutting toward them from two different directions," Rogerio Vargas Motta, director of the Pacaas Novos national park, said.

He photographed Jururei huts on a recent helicopter flyover of the remote park to catch land grabbers. One Jururei shot three arrows at the helicopter as it flew overhead.

The tribe's wood huts have roofs of black plastic tarps found in abandoned logging camps.

The contact has caused alarm among Indian rights activists who fear the tribe's existence could be under threat.

"Unless Brazil acts now to protect uncontacted tribes, they will disappear off the face of the earth forever. The annihilation of a tribe, however small, is genocide," said Fiona Watson, campaigns co-ordinator of Survival International in London.

Activists blame a lack of political will and a powerful lobby of cattle ranchers and soya bean farmers for fuelling deforestation and threatening Brazil's 700,000 Indians.

"There's been a grave lack of funding for conservation on the part of the government," said Samuel Vieira Cruz, director of Kaninde, a non-profit group that works to protect two Indian tribes in the area.

In the most recent scuffles, Jururei Indians set booby traps with spikes, piercing the foot of one logger. Loggers are within three miles of Indian camps.

Despite the conflicts with outsiders, Indian experts consider the Jururei "uncontacted" because anthropologists have yet to reach and study the tribe and the government has yet to establish ongoing peaceful communication with it.

Sydney Possuelo, director of the uncontacted tribes department at the government's Indian agency Funai, said it has been years, probably at least a decade, since officials have seen the Jururei.

He said the government's environmental protection agency, Ibama, has yet to formally tell him about the latest sighting, though neighbouring tribes routinely mention signs of their existence.

In general, Funai avoids making contact with unknown tribes that are ostensibly protected on reservations, so as to avoid altering their lives or passing on diseases.

In other cases, the government tries to make contact when Indians are threatened on unprotected lands or when tribes are very tiny and isolated, he said.

Mr Possuelo has teams roaming the Amazon trying to make contact with isolated tribes in need of protection, but he is understaffed and many tribes, like the Jururei, are nomadic or move periodically.

"We have great difficulty because the government does not see our needs for human resources and money," he said.

That also makes policing park borders difficult. He said: "Indian lands are full of invaders".

Although in 1994 the government mapped land based on evidence of the tribe's presence, the Jururei have run away from government officials during attempts to contact them.

A translator spoke for several minutes with some Jururei in 1986 before they disappeared into the jungle.

Mr Vieira Cruz said there are as many as eight uncontacted tribes in Rondonia state.

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