Public Release: 

News package explores emerging issues for isolated tribes

American Association for the Advancement of Science

This news release is available in Japanese.

Some of the world's last isolated tribes are emerging from the Amazon rainforest, forcing scientists and policymakers in South America to reconsider their policies regarding contact with such people. In this special package of news, Science correspondents Andrew Lawler and Heather Pringle report from Peru and Brazil, respectively -- two countries that are dealing with a spate of first encounters. Lawler describes contact between isolated tribespeople emerging from the forest and indigenous Peruvian villagers, who themselves may have only recently made contact with the modern world. A main concern in this interaction is the spread of disease to the unimmunized tribespeople via loggers, miners, missionaries, drug traffickers, and even television crews. But these outsiders also threaten isolated tribes in other ways, he says. Lawler traveled by canoe deep into the rainforest to locate a man named Epa, who emerged a dozen years ago and straddles the worlds of the village and the forest. Anthropologists warn that the Peruvian government may not be prepared to protect emerging tribespeople -- for example, because officials do not have the necessary immunizations on hand -- and they call for more research to understand why so many tribes are choosing to emerge now. In a separate article, Pringle describes the vaunted protection system for isolated tribes created by Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) -- and how critics say it has eroded over time. Interviews with "frontiersmen," who helped establish FUNAI's no-contact policy to protect isolated people, highlight political and economic interests that may be weakening that policy now. Three smaller articles cover controversies, such as the construction of roads to remote villages and "attraction fronts" once used to draw isolated societies out of the forest. A related Editorial by Robert Walker and Kim Hill warns against current middle-ground approaches and "leave them alone" strategies, arguing instead for more planning to safely contact isolated tribes in some cases, or to work with those who seek contact. The package also features an online component, including a short video and a multimedia story on how current events fit into the history of contact since 1492. This special package of Science news received funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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