There are an estimated 77 Indian tribes living in isolation in the Amazon rainforest. These groups choose to steer clear of outsiders, but thanks to illegal loggers, drug traffickers, and oil workers, they are being pushed out of their land and threatened with disease. Recently, one such group emerged from the rainforest near the Brazil-Peruvian border and made contact with another indigenous community, marking the first time in recent history that such an isolated tribe set out to visit a settled population. But as a result of their expedition, at least seven of the tribe members have contacted influenza, according to Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, FUNAI. This could spell disaster for a group that lacks immunity to the bug.
“This news could hardly be more worrying—not only have these people confirmed they suffered violent attacks from outsiders in Peru, but they have apparently already caught flu,” says Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which fights to protect groups of indigenous people.
It’s not clear who gave these tribespeople the flu—the other tribe they encountered, aid workers, or the people invading their land. FUNAI tried to clean up the mess as swiftly as possible by treating the infected and giving them flu shots. Unfortunately, they returned to the forest abruptly, presumably to join the rest of their village. Now researchers are worried the illness will spread, and for good reason. Between 1983 and 1985, nearly half of another population was eliminated due to illnesses passed from loggers.
"The uncontacted Indians now face the same genocidal risk from disease and violence which has characterized the invasion and occupation of the Americas over the last five centuries,” Corry says.
Anthropologists can only hope the sick members were treated fast enough to prevent the sickness from spreading, but as long as loggers and other outsiders continue their invasion of the rainforest, these uncontacted tribes will face huge risks. As anthropologist Robert Walker of the University of Missouri, Columbia told IBTimes, “If you think of how many loggers and narcotraffickers there are in this region, and that there could be as many as 3000 to 4000 uncontacted people there, the potential for contact is huge."