Thomas Quirynen / Survival International

Raid on Peru village by uncontacted tribe may be related to climate change

A Peruvian official said climate change has triggered temperature drops which may have disrupted the uncontacted tribe

Climate change may be forcing increasingly large groups of uncontacted tribes out of Peru’s Amazon, officials said as advocates for the tribes reported that riverboats were sent to evacuate a remote village after a raid by members of an uncontacted tribe.

A group of about 200 men from the uncontacted Mashco-Piro tribe, armed with bows and arrows, arrived in the community of Monte Salvado on Thursday, according to Survival International, an indigenous rights group. The men raided the village, taking weapons and destroying the homes.

Most of the villagers, members of the Yine tribe, were in the regional capital of Puerto Maldonado for local elections during the incident, but about 55 Yine members had taken refuge in a guard post and would be evacuated on Tuesday, Patricia Balbuena, Peru’s vice-minister of intercultural affairs, told the Guardian.

Although there has been a series of incidents that saw members of uncontacted tribes emerging from the jungles in small numbers in recent years, the size of the all-male group that raided Monte Salvado was unusual, officials said according to the Guardian.

“We’ve never heard reported such a large movement of uncontacted people,” Lorena Prieto, director of Peru’s office of Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact, told the Guardian. Prieto was helping to coordinate the evacuation.

Balbuena said climate change may have triggered the latest incident, as it has caused abrupt drops in temperatures in that area of the southeast Amazon.

Farmers in other areas of Peru have echoed concerns about colder-than-usual temperatures. During the latest climate change conference, or COP20, held in Lima this month, indigenous communities living in the Andes Mountains said global warming is threatening the biodiversity they have worked so hard to protect.

“It’s a terrible irony that indigenous people, who are the ones who have done least to cause climate change, are not potentially the ones most affected,” Jonathan Mazower, media director for Survival International, said in a report on climate change and tribal peoples.

The Amazon as a whole has been getting drier, scientists said, which could have effects on weather around the world. In the Amazon, increasing deforestration also contributes to climate change.

Forests naturally store, or sequester, carbon emissions that cause global warming. When forests are cut down, not only is the carbon no longer being sequestered by the trees, their removal leads to increased carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Deforestation accounts for over half of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to government data.

Other reasons cited by tribal advocates, including Survival International, for the emergence of uncontacted tribes is the incursion by illegal loggers and drug traffickers into the Madre de Dios indigenous reserve where those tribes live.

In July, rare video was released showing the emergence of a previously uncontacted tribe near the Brazil-Peru border. The tribe's members communicated that they had fled violence in their territory. Several members of the tribe told representatives of FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs department, that non-Indians had massacred elders from their tribe and burned down their homes.

Uncontacted tribes live in isolation deep in the Amazon largely because of a long history of violence from outsiders, beginning with European colonizers and continuing to this day with those looking to exploit the region’s lumber and other natural resources including oil.

There are about 15 uncontacted tribes with up to 15,000 members believed to live in Peru’s Amazon region, and direct contact with the groups is banned by the government. The tribes living in isolation for centuries lack immunity to diseases carried by outsiders, and because of that illnesses like influenza have the potential to wipe out entire tribes.

“Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable societies on the planet. If the survival of the Mashco-Piro is to be guaranteed, Peru has to take action quickly, otherwise they risk being wiped out by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance,” Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said in a press release Tuesday. “The Mashco-Piro, like all uncontacted tribes, face catastrophe unless their land is protected.”

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