Uncontacted tribe photographed in Amazon


There's a scene in the just-released Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in which (spoiler alert, for the five of you out there who haven't seen it yet) a fearsome tribe of painted warriors pours out of the walls of a hidden jungle temple in hot pursuit of our heroes/grave robbers. Because the movie takes place in 1957, I thought this scene stretched the limits of credibility (among many others, of course): Were there really any undiscovered Amazonian peoples left by 1957? Even if there were, surely there can't be any left now.

Turns out I couldn't be more wrong: Stunning aerial photos released today by indigenous advocacy group Survival International show an uncontacted tribe near the Peru-Brazil border running from their huts and arming their bows upon sighting the unfamiliar reconnaissance plane. But while they also cover themselves in brilliant hues like their fictional counterparts, we are the ones who endanger them.

Survival International released the photos, taken above Brazil's hyper-remote Acre province, to bring attention to their plight: Because of illegal logging on the Peruvian side, the natives risk being forced into the territory of other undiscovered tribes deeper in Brazil, where they could face conflict, disease, and loss of livelihood.

"We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist,’ said uncontacted tribes expert José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Júnior. Meirelles works for FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs department. "This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence."

"What is happening in this region [of Peru] is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the ‘civilised’ ones, treat the world," said Meirelles.

In point of fact, their are over 100 uncontacted tribes left in the world, with more than half of those in Peru and Brazil, and nearly all of them are under threat. Outside forces threaten to push all of them off their land into dangerous territory, or perhaps worse, the civilized world, which could kill them with violence or diseases their immune systems can't handle, like the flu, strep, and even the common cold.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said today, "These pictures are further evidence that uncontacted tribes really do exist. The world needs to wake up to this, and ensure that their territory is protected in accordance with international law. Otherwise, they will soon be made extinct."

Survival International is currently in the midst of a worldwide campaign to raise awareness for protecting uncontacted tribes all over the world, including a documentary narrated by Julie Christie. Their existence is proof that deep mysteries still exist in our modern age, and trump almost anything Hollywood can dream up. But the sad truth is that unless we protect them from afar, they might end up existing only on film.

— Ted Alvarez

Uncontacted tribe photographed near Peru-Brazil border (Survival International)