Report from 2050: Peruvian Tribe Declared Extinct

Oil companies blamed for the extinction of Peru's Mashco-Piro-Iñapari tribe

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 4, 2050 (New York) -- Over forty years ago, a coalition of more than 50 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called for three major oil companies to withdraw their planned operations from a part of the Peruvian Amazon that is the home to two uncontacted tribes. Peru has the third largest number of the uncontacted tribes in the world, after Brazil (with 43 confirmed) and New Guinea.

Sent by the international non-profit tribal rights organization Survival International, the letter said that these uncontacted tribes are "extremely vulnerable as they lack immunity to outsidersʼ diseases and they face the very real threat of extinction if they are contacted."

"Operating in this area demonstrates an utter disregard for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet," said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, according to a 2010 story by The Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network. "If the companies have any sense, they will leave the area to its rightful owners before lives, and reputations, are ruined."

The oil companies never left. The government of Peru approved every single one of their requests. And now, according to a new report by the Lima-based non-profit conservation group Amazonas, Peru's Mashco-Piro-Iñapari tribe has been declared extinct, after the remaining three members of the group succumbed to chicken pox, a disease to which the tribe had not developed an immunity.

"The destructive quest for the South America's fossil fuel has caused the extinction of many endangered species over the last 100 years," said Amazonas executive director Arturo Peralta Miranda, in an email. "Now that quest can claim the destruction of a distinct group of Homo sapiens."

Last year, 13 members of the Mashco-Piro-Iñapari were killed in violent clashes with security forces guarding a drilling station deep in the forest.

Since construction began in 2012, over 700 miles (1,100 km) of oil pipeline has been built throughout Peru, impacting vast tracts of rainforest on either side along its length. Over 2,000 miles (1,200 km) of seismic lines have been cut in order to find oil, a process that includes clearing paths and detonating explosives throughout what once was one of the Earth's most biologically diverse regions.

By 2030, oil companies in the country had constructed over 220 heliports in the selva (jungle), which has reduced the ability of indigenous tribes to hunt for food. The heliports have also disrupted the habitats of many critically endangered species living in Yasuni National Park in neighboring Ecuador.

"In Peru, more than 50% of the previously-uncontacted Nahua tribe were wiped out following oil exploration on their land in the early 1980s, and the same tragedy engulfed the Murunahua in the mid-1990s after being forcibly contacted by illegal mahogany loggers," according to Survival International.

"One of the Murunahua survivors, Jorge, who lost an eye during first contact, told a Survival researcher, 'The disease came when the loggers made contact with us, although we didn’t know what a cold was then. The disease killed us. Half of us died. My aunt died, my nephew died. Half of my people died.'"

In 2010, Peru was ranked as the 10th worst country in terms of environmental impact according to "Evaluating the Relative Environmental Impact of Countries," a joint-study of 228 nations by Australia's University of Adelaide, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, the National University of Singapore, Princeton University and Harvard University.

"Now that the government has allowed oil companies to destroy our rainforests and bring diseases that have led to the extinction of one of our nation's remaining indigenous tribes," Miranda said, "Peru should be on top of that list."

image: Peruvian Amazon, 2004 (credit: George Kraus)

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