Peru Struggles to Shield New 'Lost' Tribe

Rousted by logging and aircraft, members clash violently with outsiders

By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 1, 2012 2:36 AM CST | Updated Feb 1, 2012 6:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Peruvian officials are struggling mightily to shield one of the last "lost" tribes of its jungles. Members of the mysterious Mashco-Piro clan have been spotted along the banks of a southeastern jungle river popular with ecotourists. In two instances, tribe members have fired arrows at people in the area, including a forest ranger who was badly wounded, and a Matsiguenka Indian who was killed, even though he had long maintained a relationship with tribe members. But they have also been asking for tools from passing tourist boats and cargo vessels. Now authorities have prohibited boats from going ashore in the area. Officials believe tribe members, long isolated with no contact with outsiders, may have been rousted from their usual jungle homes by increasing logging activity in the area and low-flying aircraft involved in natural gas and oil exploration, reports the AP.

The Mashco-Piro Indians were first spotted last May, but sightings have been increasing the last two months. The tribe is considered one of a dozen such tribes in Peru, and 100 in the world. The clan appearing along the river is believed to number about 60, 25 of whom are adults, but the entire tribe may number in the hundreds. "It seemed like they wanted to draw a bit of attention, which is a bit strange because I know that on other occasions they had attacked people," said archeologist Diego Cortijo, who has taken photos of the river clan. "It seemed they didn't want us to go near them, but I also know that they wanted machetes and cooking pots." Officials worry about increasing incidents of violence between outsiders and the Mashco-Piro, whose social code includes kidnapping other tribes' women and children. "The situation is incredibly delicate," said a government anthropologist.

Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe peer at a photographer near their jungle home in southeastern Peru.
Members of the Mashco-Piro tribe peer at a photographer near their jungle home in southeastern Peru.   (AP Photo/Diego Cortijo,Survival International)
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