The Ayoreo Indians of Paraguay are the only “uncontacted” tribe in South America outside of the Amazon basin. There is believed to be six or seven isolated groups, numbering around 150 people in total. They live in the Gran Chaco area of Paraguay, an arid, sparsely-populated area of land, which is under increasing threat. One problem that makes Gran Chaco’s problems so much more severe than those facing the Amazon is that there are so many different ways to approach the area and its relative size. It’s land edges into Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and of course Paraguay, where the Ayoreo live, and comparatively Gran Chaco is 650,000 square kilometres in size compared to the Amazon basin’s 8 million square kilometres, which is why even though much has been done to deforest the Amazon they have only ever trimmed parts off the sides and struggled to find economic value from going too deep into the region as the cost of bringing goods back out again is not worthwhile. Gran Chaco on the other hand has better roads and far easier access to Brazil, Argentina and crucially Chile where products can be solled to the Far East.
The greatest current threat to the tribe is a Brazilian firm Yaguarete Porá who own a 78,000 hectare plot near where Ayoreo have been sighted. The firm plans to bulldoze most of the area and make it into a cattle ranch, a project which will undermine the Ayoreo’s lifestyle considerably.
However, an interesting new threat has recently emerged in the Natural History Museum who are planning on sending a 60-strong expedition of scientists to the area in order to understand better the area. The concern with this expedition is that white man diseases such as measles and smallpox, as well as common colds and flu, will have a serious effect on the Ayoreo population. This was documented in a recent article in the Telegraph, explaining this point further:
“If this expedition goes ahead, we will not be able to understand why you prefer to lose human lives just because the English scientists want to study plants and animals,” said a statement from Iniciativa Amotocodie, an indigenous peoples’ protection group. “The people die in the forest frequently from catching white people’s diseases. It’s very serious. It’s like genocide.”
The article also includes details of the proposed expedition:
It is, of course, this enticing diversity which is so appealing to the Natural History Museum. The last serious study of the Chaco was carried out 100 years ago, by Swiss scientists. Forty Paraguayan scientists, joined by 20 from London, will spend a month there, documenting flora, fauna, insects, birds, amphibians and mammals. They hope to establish a baseline against which to measure future change – whether man-made or due to climate change. Eighteen months in the planning, this is one of the largest expeditions undertaken by the museum in more than 50 years and is believed to be costing more than £300,000.
More information on the Ayoreo can be found at the Survival International website.