Undiscovered. Found. Now lost again.
So goes the story, thus far, of an uncontacted Amazon tribe only discovered by the rest of the world three years ago.
But Brazilian officials fear drug dealers may have wiped out the tribe. Either that or the tribe fled after the traffickers arrived.
A government-run guard post in the area was attacked last week by a group of men believed to have been smuggling drugs between Peru and Brazil, reports the aid group Survival International.
Since the attack, officials haven’t been able to locate the tribe.
Police reportedly found a 20-kilogram package of cocaine nearby, according to Survival International. The tribe lives on lands near the Envira River, and there are fears the river has become an entry point into Brazil for cocaine smugglers from Peru.
“We think the Peruvians made the Indians flee. Now we have good proof. We are more worried than ever. This situation could be one of the biggest blows we have ever seen in the protection of uncontacted Indians in recent decades. It’s a catastrophe,” said Carlos Travassos, the head of the Brazilian government’s isolated Indians department.
The tribe was first photographed from the air three years ago. The images showed tribesmen painted all in red, carrying longbows to defend themselves from the aircraft taking photos.
It is the policy of the Brazilian government not to contact tribes that still are isolated from the outside world.
Earlier this year, the BBC aired the first video footage of the tribe, which is one of 14 uncontacted settlements in the region. The tribe is likely part of the Pano linguistic group that inhabits the border between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, according to the Toronto Star.
Survival International has some interesting facts about uncontacted tribes:
- An uncontacted tribe lives less than 100 kilometers from Machu Picchu, one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world.
- One uncontacted tribe is now believed to be reduced to only one man, known as the Last of his Tribe, who digs holes in the Amazon rain forest to catch animals and fires arrows at anyone who comes near.
- It is not unusual for 50 percent of a tribe to be wiped out within a year of first contact, by diseases such as measles and influenza.