Armed first with bows and arrows, swords, rifles and now also GPS tracking devices and cameras, Ka’apor villagers are refusing to lose their land to illegal loggers. Left with only empty promises from their government, villagers have taken charge of their “nature conservation through aggressive confrontation.”
Living in the Alto Turiacu region in rural Brazil, roughly 2,000 indigenous peoples are protecting their densely forested land. Between 2007 and 2013, the area lost 5,733 hectares of forest to illegal logging. Areas the loggers uproot look gashed and spent, their former beauty metaphorically pissed on by private criminal interests. These areas will be nothing but stumps for decades.
In 2011, the Ka’apor began patrolling. Since, loggers have been rounded up, their logs burned and their hands tied, receiving strikes with sticks and having their pants removed to humiliate them into staying away. A Ka’apor leader describes the encounters to The Guardian as being “like a film: They fight us with machetes, but we always drive them off.”
But protecting their land also has had dire costs. Four Ka’apor villagers have died and more than a dozen of their leaders have received death threats or assassination attempts. One prominent leader was shot returning from a visit with his son. Despite links between the deaths and loggers, no arrests have been made. The federal court ordered security posts in the area in 2014, but not a single station has yet to be erected.
Greenpeace Brazil decided to step in, providing the Ka’apor with surveillance technology that is shifting the playing field in their favour. The organization reports, that “together, Greenpeace and the Ka’apor built more accurate maps of the landscape and installed motion and temperature sensor cameras to document the invasion of logging trucks inside Ka’apor territory. Greenpeace also provided the Ka’apor with electronic tracking devices to monitor logging trucks as they travel in and around the Alto Turiacu Indigenous Land.”
The new technology gives the Ka’apor more information than they could have gathered on foot and hard data providing leverage in forcing the Brazilian government to provide support.
Without government help, there is little indication that this problem can be curbed. Oversight is weak, so loggers can forge papers to make their wood appear legal. And The Guardian reports that illegal cutting is increasing. In an interview, Imazon’s Paulo Barreto said, “the situation is rapidly getting worse. He says the area illegally logged increased by 151% in Pará and by 63% in Mato Grosso between 2011 and 2012.” Greenpeace reports, “Between 2007 and 2008, the Brazilian Amazon lost almost 3 million acres of rainforest to illegal logging, soy plantations, cattle ranching and other human activities.”
Marina Lacorte, of Greenpeace Brazil poses an important question: “If the Ka’apor people are protecting their territory with their own resources and little technological support, why is the Brazilian government not able to do the same?”