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NGO calls for halt to tourist contact with uncontacted tribes in Peru

October 9, 2014 Responsible Tourism No Comments Email Email

wttc_manu_national_park_uncontacted_tribeAn “unrivalled variety of animal and plant species” is how UNESCO describes the Manu National Park in Peru, an area of densely forested wilderness where some 850 species of birds have been identified and rare species such as the giant otter and the giant armadillo also find refuge. It’s hardly surprising that intrepid tourists are eager to explore.

Unfortunately, the park is also the home for at least three different indigenous populations of humans, some of whom have had little or no contact with the outside world, making them extremely susceptible to diseases if they were to encounter outsiders. For this reason, Survival International, which campaigns for the rights of tribal people around the world, is urging visitors to the rainforests of the park not to go on what it bills “human safaris”, where tourists seek out sightings of members of the country’s last surviving uncontacted tribes.

Survival’s call has becoming increasingly urgent in recent weeks, since a missionary who was travelling in a tour company’s boat through the park left clothes and food on the banks intended for members of the uncontacted Maschco-Piro tribe. “We are very nervous about these developments and are urging all tourists to remain clear of the affected areas,” said Rebecca Spooner, Survival International’s campaigner for Peruvian tribal people. “These people have no immunity to diseases we take for granted such as flu and measles – diseases that can be contracted through wearing our clothes. Such gestures may be well intended, but there is a real risk that through unsolicited contact, an entire people could be wiped out.”

Survival International is now calling for a temporary halt to tourist activity in the Manu National Park. “Two years ago we first started getting reports of companies seeking to ‘sex-up’ their tours by offering possible sightings of tribes people and we made a huge complaint,” said Spooner. “The laws were tightened forbidding publicising such tours or using images of the tribes people on websites.

The NGO’s call was supported by Amazon Indian organization FENAMAD, which issued a statement saying: “It’s high time the Peruvian government put words into action instead of these endless meetings about devising protocols and policies. The uncontacted Indians are coming out of the forest but the authorities say and do nothing.” Together the two groups have called on tour operators to not stop their boats when the Indians appear and to forbid tourists from taking photographs of the Indians or leaving items as gifts for the tribes.

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