Naturalists' Visit to Paraguay Halted for Fear of Infecting Natives

chaco paraguay photo
Photo: cuencadelplata

After great pressure from the Paraguayan government and local campaigners, an expedition to a remote part of the Amazon by the prestigious Natural History Museum in London has been suspended.

A team of one hundred scientists, botanists and biologists were planning an expedition to isolated parts of Paraguay in their search for new species of plants and insects. However there were fears that they would meet up with tribes of natives in the area who had never been exposed to people outside the Amazon. gran chaco photo

There are about 5,000 Ayoreo people in total. Survival International estimates that just 200 are still "uncontacted". These tribes have never had contact with the outside world. They live in a virgin forest area, in voluntary isolation and avoid all contact with Westerners.

The two sites where the team of scientists were planning to stay were in the Gran Chaco, an area that is one of the few places where there are still isolated groups of Ayoreo people. The sites are near their ancestral home.

Some critics said that the Natural History Museum expedition to Paraguay could lead to "genocide" and called for it to be abandoned. They fear that the scientists and their teams are likely to make accidental contact with these isolated groups and could pass on infectious diseases.

In a public letter to the Museum, the director of the indigenous people protection group Iniciativa Amotocodie wrote: "According to our data, the expedition you plan constitutes beyond any doubt an extremely high risk for the integrity, safety and legal rights of life and self-determination of the isolated Ayoreo, as well as for the integrity and stability of their territories." It goes on to mention the threat of violence: "At the same time, there obviously exists a considerable menace and risk also for the safety of the scientists taking part of the expedition, as well as the rest of expedition participants."

natural museum photo
Photo: travel muse

The expedition had high hopes; they had wanted to help "governments and conservation groups better understand how to manage fragile habitats and protect them for future generations". They had worked with Ayoreo representatives and with the help of an Elder and so thought that they could avoid the tribes. But a director of Survival International said that " there was a risk of "surprise contact" because the scientists had to "move around in a very silent way in order to observe animals".

There will now be a further consultation with the Ayoreo people and a suspension of all activities while this occurs.

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Tags: Conservation | Deforestation | Endangered Species | Tourism


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