Friends of Dom Phillips, who went missing on Sunday near the Javari reserve, a region of rivers and rainforests near the border with Peru, said the pair had been threatened by "local thugs" in an area where environmental crime such as illegal logging and wildcat mining had been increasing in recent months.
Mr Phillips, a freelancer who mainly writes for the Guardian, had been researching a book on crime in the region. He was travelling with Bruno Pereira, a former government official tasked with protecting Brazil’s uncontacted tribes, who has long received threats from the loggers and miners seeking to invade their lands.
The Javari valley is home to thousands of indigenous people and about 16 uncontacted groups. The Coordination of the Indigenous Organisation said that satellite information showed the pair's last known location in the São Rafael community early on Sunday morning, where they were expected to meet with a local leader, however he did not turn up. They had then planned to take a two-hour trip to Atalaia do Norte, but never arrived.
Rob Muggah, founder of think tank the Igarapé Institute, said: “Deeply concerned about the safety and whereabouts of friend and colleague Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira who went missing on Sunday near the Javari reserve in Amazonas. They had been threatened by local thugs in the recent past. We are trying hard to alert authorities across the tri-border areas in Brazil, Colombia and Peru.
“So far, the Brazilian search and rescue mission has been sluggish, though independent search parties have been activated. The families and friends of both Dom and Bruno are imploring federal and state authorities to undertake a more robust (aerial) search given that time is of the essence.”
He added: “The environmental crime situation in the area - and across the Amazon Basin - has been worsening of late, not least as a result of the incitement of the current administration. There has been an explosion of land appropriation, wildcat mining, illegal logging, and drug trafficking, with devastating effects on local indigenous populations.”
“Dom and Bruno have both been courageously documenting the litany of crimes and their human toll along with the incredible resourcefulness and resilience of local populations across the region. We urge Brazilian authorities to accelerate action.”
Mr Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said: "In the forest every second counts, every second can make the difference between life and death. A lost morning is a lost day, a lost day is a lost night. I can only pray that Dom and Bruno are OK somewhere, that for some mechanical reason they are prevented from moving on and that this becomes just another story in a lifetime of similar stories.
"I want to tell you that Dom Phillips, my husband, loves Brazil and the Amazon. He could live anywhere in the world, but he chose to live here. Fifteen years ago Dom left his country, England, to live in Brazil. Brazilian authorities, our families are desperate. Respond to the urgency of the moment with urgent action. Government of Brazil, where are Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira?”