By Rhett Butler | Last updated July 31, 2012
Tropical rainforests have long been home to indigenous peoples who have shaped civilizations and cultures based
on the environment in which they live. Great civilizations like the Mayas, Incas, and Aztecs developed complex
societies and made great contributions to science. Living from nature and lacking the technology to dominate their
environment, native peoples have learned to watch their surroundings and understand the intricacies of the rainforest.
Over generations these people have learned the importance of living within their environment and have come to rely on
the countless renewable benefits that forests can provide.
- Who lives in the rainforest?
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Continued: African Forest People
Recent news on rainforest people
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NGO: conflict of interests behind Peruvian highway proposal in the Amazon
(05/16/2013) As Peru's legislature debates the merits of building the Purús highway through the Amazon rainforest, a new report by Global Witness alleges that the project has been aggressively pushed by those with a financial stake in opening up the remote area to logging and mining. Roads built in the Amazon lead to spikes in deforestation, mining, poaching and other extractive activities as remote areas become suddenly accessible. The road in question would cut through parts of the Peruvian Amazon rich in biodiversity and home to indigenous tribes who have chosen to live in "voluntary isolation."
Rainforest tribe urges Norwegian king to recall energy executive
(05/13/2013) In an unusual bid to stop a series of dams that will flood their rainforest home, a group of tribesmen in Borneo are urging King Harald V of Norway to call one of his subjects home. The subject is Torstein Dale Sjøtveit, a Norwegian citizen who is the CEO of Sarawak Energy, a Malaysian firm that is building several dams in the state of Sarawak. The hydroelectric projects are controversial because they require the forced displacement of indigenous communities and will flood large tracts of rainforest.
Central America's largest forest under siege by colonists
(05/06/2013) In the last four years, invading land speculators and peasants have destroyed 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of rainforest in Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, according to the Mayangna and Miskito indigenous peoples who call this forest home. Although Nicaragua recognized the land rights of the indigenous people in 2007, the tribes say the government has not done near-enough to keep illegal settlers out despite recent eviction efforts.
Tribesmen launch 'occupy' protest at dam site in the Amazon rainforest
(05/03/2013) On Thursday roughly 200 indigenous people launched an occupation of a key construction site for the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon. The protestors, who represent communities that will be affected by the massive dam, are demanding immediate suspension of all work on hydroelectric projects on the Xingu, Tapajós and Teles Pires rivers until they are properly consulted, according to a coalition of environmental groups opposing the projects.
Indigenous tribes say effects of climate change already felt in Amazon rainforest
(04/30/2013) Tribal groups in Earth's largest rainforest are already being affected by shifts wrought by climate change, reports a paper published last week in the British journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The paper, which is based on a collection of interviews conducted with indigenous leaders in the Brazilian Amazon, says that native populations are reporting shifts in precipitation patterns, humidity, river levels, temperature, and fire and agricultural cycles. These shifts, measured against celestial timing used by indigenous groups, are affecting traditional ways of life that date back thousands of years.
Conservation without supervision: Peruvian community group creates and patrols its own protected area
(04/30/2013) When we think of conservation areas, many of us think of iconic National Parks overseen by uniformed government employees or wilderness areas purchased and run from afar by big-donor organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, or Conservation International. But what happens to ecosystems and wildlife in areas where there's a total lack of government presence and no money coming in for its protection? This is the story of one rural Peruvian community that took conservation matters into their own hands, with a little help from a dedicated pair of primate researchers, in order to protect a high biodiversity cloud forest.
Featured video: Earth Day message from indigenous tribes in the Peruvian Amazon
(04/23/2013) A new video by Alianza Arkana includes an Earth Day message from the indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon who are facing the existential threats of logging and fossil fuel development on their traditional lands.
Judge halts military-backed dam assessment in Brazil's Amazon
(04/17/2013) A federal court in Brazil has suspended the use of military and police personnel during technical research on the controversial São Luíz do Tapajós Dam in the Brazilian Amazon. The military and police were brought in to stamp down protests from indigenous people living along the Tapajós River, but the judge decreed that impacted indigenous groups must give free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) before any furter studies can be done on the proposed dam. However, the decision is expected to be appealed.
Featured video: local communities successfully conserve forests in Ethiopia
(04/17/2013) A participatory forest management (PFM) program in Ethiopia has made good on forest preservation and expansion, according a recent article and video interview (below) from the Guardian. After 15 years, the program has aided one community in expanding its forest by 9.2 percent in the last decade, while still allowing community access to forest for smallscale logging in Ethiopia's Bale Mountains.
Landowner who allegedly ordered Amazon murders acquitted
(04/10/2013) Jose Rodrigues Moreira, a Brazilian landowner who allegedly ordered the killings of Amazon activists Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria, was acquitted this week due to lack of evidence. But, the two men who carried out the assassinations, Lindonjonson Silva Rocha and Alberto Lopes do Nascimento, were found guilty and sent to 42 and 45 years of jail respectively.
Indigenous group: Brazil using military to force Amazon dams
(04/08/2013) An Amazonian community has threatened to "go to war" with the Brazilian government after what they say is a military incursion into their land by dam builders. The Munduruku indigenous group in Para state say they have been betrayed by the authorities, who are pushing ahead with plans to build a cascade of hydropower plants on the Tapajós river without their permission.
An insidious threat to tropical forests: over-hunting endangers tree species in Asia and Africa
(04/04/2013) A fruit falls to the floor in a rainforest. It waits. And waits. Inside the fruit is a seed, and like most seeds in tropical forests, this one needs an animal—a good-sized animal—to move it to a new place where it can germinate and grow. But it may be waiting in vain. Hunting and poaching has decimated many mammal and bird populations across the tropics, and according to two new studies the loss of these important seed-disperser are imperiling the very nature of rainforests.
Infamous elephant poacher turns cannibal in the Congo
(04/03/2013) Early on a Sunday morning last summer, the villagers of Epulu awoke to the sounds of shots and screaming. In the eastern reaches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that can often mean another round of violence and ethnic murder is under way. In this case, however, something even more horrific was afoot.
Indigenous protester killed by masked assailants in Panama over UN-condemned dam
(03/25/2013) A Ngäbe indigenous Panamanian, Onesimo Rodriguez, opposing the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project was killed last Friday evening by four masked men. His body was then thrown into a nearby stream where it was discovered the following day. Onesimo Rodriguez was attacked with a companion in Las Nubes, after they had attended a demonstration in Cerro Punta, Bugaba, against the dam. His companion, whose identity is being withheld for security reasons, received serious injuries but managed to escape and is having his injuries tended to by the local indigenous community.
Panama's indigenous people drop REDD+
(03/19/2013) The National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples in Panama (COONAPIP) has announced it is withdrawing from the United Nation's REDD+ program following a series of disagreements. The exit of COONAPIP from the negotiating table with UN officials and the Panamanian government will likely be a blow to the legitimacy of REDD+ in the central American country. REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is a program to reduce emissions by safeguarding forests.
Into the unknown mountains of Cambodia: rare birds, rice wine, and talk of tigers
(03/14/2013) Ringed with forested mountains forming the borders with Laos and Vietnam, the northeast corner of Cambodia has been an intriguing blank spot among my extensive travels through the country. Nestled up against this frontier is Virachey National Park, created in 1993. I began searching for a way to explore this area a couple of years ago, hoping to connect with conservation NGOs to get me into the park; no one seemed to know much about it. I learned that the area had been written off by these groups due to massive land concessions given to logging and rubber concerns. The World Bank abandoned its 8-year effort to create a management scheme for Virachey after the concessions were granted in 2007. A moratorium on the concessions is temporarily in place, but illegal logging incursions into the park continue.
Tribe rejects payment from electricity company behind destructive Amazon dam
(03/14/2013) Leaders of more than two dozen Kayapó indigenous communities have rejected a $9 million offer from Brazilian state energy company Eletrobras to fund development projects in their region due to the the firm's involvement in the construction of the Belo Monte dam, reports Amazon Watch, an activist group fighting the hydroelectric project.
Parks, indigenous territories are effectively reducing Amazon deforestation
(03/11/2013) Strict conservation areas and indigenous reserves are more effective at reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon relative to 'sustainble-use' areas set up for non-indigenous resource extraction, reports a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research, which involved an international team, compared rates of forest loss between different categories of managed lands using satellite imagery and statistical analysis.
Warlords, sorcery, and wildlife: an environmental artist ventures into the Congo
(02/25/2013) Last year, Roger Peet, an American artist, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to visit one of the world's most remote and wild forests. Peet spent three months in a region that is largely unknown to the outside world, but where a group of conservationists, headed by Terese and John Hart, are working diligently to create a new national park, known as Lomami. Here, the printmaker met a local warlord, discovered a downed plane, and designed a tomb for a wildlife ranger killed by disease, in addition to seeing some of the region's astounding wildlife. Notably, the burgeoning Lomami National Park is home to the world's newest monkey species, only announced by scientists last September.
Long lost tribe spotted in the Colombian Amazon
(02/23/2013) The March 2013 issue of Smithsonian magazine features an account of the flight that confirmed the presence of an isolated indigenous tribe in a remote part of the Colombian Amazon.
Controversial palm oil project concession in Cameroon is 89 percent 'dense natural forest'
(02/21/2013) Satellite mapping and aerial surveys have revealed that a controversial palm oil concession in Cameroon is almost entirely covered by "dense natural forest," according to a new report by Greenpeace. The activist group alleges that the concession, owned by Herakles Farms, is under 89 percent forest cover. The U.S.-based corporation intends to build a 70,000 hectare palm oil plantation in a region surrounded by four protected areas, including Korup National Park, but has faced stiff criticism from numerous environmental groups as well as conflict with locals.
Featured video: Saving the Amazon through maps
(02/20/2013) In a new video ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, talks about recent—and historical—efforts to preserve the Amazon rainforest through map-making and technology. Today scientists like Plotkin are teaching indigenous people how to digitally map their territory to win land rights over the forest they've used for centuries.
Fossil fuel company looking to exploit deposits in Manu National Park
(02/11/2013) Pluspetrol, an Argentine oil and gas company, is eyeing a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Amazon rainforest for gas production, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Manu National Park in eastern Peru is considered one of the most biodiverse places on Earth and is home to indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation.
From slash-and-burn to Amazon heroes: new video series highlights agricultural transformation
(01/31/2013) A new series of short films is celebrating the innovation of rural farmers in the Manu region of Peru. Home to jaguars, macaws, and tapirs, the Manu region is also one of the top contenders for the world's most biodiverse place. It faces a multitude of threats from road-building to mining to gas and oil concessions. Still the impact of smallscale slash-and-burn farming—once seen as the greatest threat to the Amazon and other rainforest—may be diminishing as farmers, like the first film's Reynaldo (see below), turn to new ways of farming, ones that preserve the forest while providing a better life overall.
Miners win ruling over indigenous groups in Guyana
(01/29/2013) A judge in Guyana's high court has ruled that indigenous groups do not have the right to expel legal miners from their land. The judge, Diana Insanally, found that if the miners in question held a government-approved license than the local community had no right to dispute the mining. The ruling has sparked protests by indigenous groups and is expected to be appealed.
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