Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Making contact

  • Written by  Tom Hart
  • Published in Cultures
Making contact Reuters
25 Dec
2014
It’s fairly well known that Amazonia, a huge forest region that straddles the Brazil–Peru border, is home to indigenous groups that have little or no contact with the outside world

The problem currently for scientists and local authorities that want to monitor these communities is that contact with them is fraught with danger. Without inoculation or inherited immunity, these tribes are highly susceptible to outside infection.

Brazil’s indigenous peoples agency, the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), monitors communities with aircraft, but these are both expensive and frightening for people only familiar with basic technology.

However, a new effort in satellite monitoring may prove to be the solution. Anthropology professor Robert Walker from the University of Missouri, along with colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute and the University of Austin, have been using commercially-available satellite imagery to track isolated communities.

‘Five villages in the Upper Envira River watershed were picked because FUNAI has been doing overflights in the region for some time now. The information from these was useful since it helped us locate the tribes and provided some estimates of how many people are likely to live in each,’ says Walker.

‘The detail level of the satellite imagery impressive,’ he adds. ‘The fact that we can see the outline of their houses is great, and is useful for making measurements of house sizes.’ The researchers watched one village – called Site H to ensure anonymity – grow from 12 to 28 hectares in just over a year; around 300 people now live there.

‘A lot depends on how you define ‘uncontacted’, but all the groups likely have some form of contact such as seeing airplanes fly over and other brief incidents. I define ‘contact’ as sustained peaceful contact with the outside world. Under this definition they are all uncontacted,’ says Walker.

The next move for researchers is to use ecological characteristics – such as the top of the watershed and distance from roads – from 29 of the isolated villages in Amazonia to help model whereabouts similar communities might be located.

Uncontacted nomadic groups remain an enigma for Walker: ‘We may get lucky with satellite imagery of temporary huts along rivers, but this seems unlikely. All the other potential ways to track them are too invasive.’

‘The long-term goal is continued remote surveillance of these villages over time, to provide vital information that might be useful for conservation purposes,’ says Walker. Satellite imagery could allow government officials and scientists to monitor encroachment from timber smugglers, drug traffickers and colonists into uncontacted peoples’ land.

This story was published in the January 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Cultures

'The British Isles' by Jamie Hawkesworth is a celebration of…

Development

A technique that uses bacteria to leach precious metals from…

Cultures

Hadani Ditmars explores the Iranian neighbourhoods of Vancouver, where the…

Development

Overshadowed by the uncertainty surrounding the Tokyo games, the Olympics…

Cultures

High in protein, antioxidants and requiring little space. What’s not…

Cultures

Snake wine is sold openly all over Southeast Asia but,…

Explorers

Going out into the world’s wildernesses or performing extraordinary feats…

I’m a Geographer

Chris Morgan is an ecologist and award-winning conservationist, educator, TV…

Global Health

The technology of mRNA-based vaccines – first approved for immunising…

People

The decades-long decline in hunger has now ended, despite the…

Explorers

Trapped at home in Vancouver during the pandemic, but with…

Cultures

The dramatic scenery of the Jurassic Coast and the fossils…

Global Health

With millions of lives at stake, scientists have accelerated research…

Explorers

Polar explorer Felicity Aston and her Icelandic husband took on…

Development

Pressure is mounting on steelmakers to decarbonise, but it’s proving…

Development

 Traditional methods of design and construction have led to a…