Kayapo "defenders of the Amazon" have help from Canadian friendsBRAZIL—A sizeable portion of the Amazon rainforest remains intact in part due to the efforts of a small group of Canadians.
In the Xingu river basin of the Brazilian Amazon,9000 Kayapo indigenous people are protecting their legally demarcated territories—which span an area twice the size of Nova Scotia—from the rapacious illegal goldmining, logging and colonization that is rapidly carving out forest in the southeastern Amazon. Key to their success has been outside help from conservation groups, including the International Conservation Fund of Canada.
Their epic struggle is told in the January 2014 cover story ("Defenders of the Amazon") of National Geographic magazine. Kayapo culture and traditions remain intact— they hunt, fish and collect wild foods — as does their pride and attachment to their lands. For decades they have fought off incursions by ranchers, loggers and miners in a lawless "wild West" frontier.
"The Kayapo have always been fierce protectors of their lands" explains Barbara Zimmerman, who has worked with the Kayapo for twenty-five years, earlier with Conservation International and since 2007 with the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC).
"We hit the jackpot with our first project", says Anne Lambert, managing director of ICFC. "I don't know of any conservation program that is as important in protecting tropical forest and the wealth of biological diversity it contains". Lambert and Tom Welch joined forces with Zimmerman in 2007 when they founded ICFC. Since receiving charitable status in 2009, ICFC has been the lead funder of the Kayapo conservation effort.
"The Kayapo are the heroes of this conservation success story", says Tom Welch. But defending 2,500 kilometers of border takes organization and resources. Zimmerman forged the creation of Kayapo organizations to link the forty remote Kayapo communities and enable their coordinated action. International conservation organizations have fostered the growth of these organizations and continue to provide needed financial support.
The Amazon is home to about a third of the planet's terrestrial life forms and safeguards indigenous tribes and cultures. It cycles about one quarter of Earth's freshwater and plays a key role in global carbon cycles and climate. Roughly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil. The Brazilian Amazon faces the threats impacting rainforests globally. Industrial agriculture — especially oil palm, soy and cattle production — is the main driver of rainforest loss worldwide, with cattle ranching the leading cause in Brazil. Barbara Zimmerman explains that loggers spearhead the deforestation process in the tropics by building roads and opening up previously remote areas in their search for high value timber. Settlers follow the roads and clear the land for agriculture and towns, from which more roads are built, and so the process expands.
Traditional indigenous territories make up 22 percent of the world's land surface and may hold 80 percent of the planet's biodiversity, according to the World Bank, which calls the role of indigenous people in biodiversity conservation a "win-win". Tropical nature—and the entire world—are the beneficiaries.
For further information: Contact Barbara Zimmerman, (416) 846-2236, Zimmerman@ICFCanada.org
- National Geographic articles:
- Kayapo Courage
- Rain Forest
Warriors: How Indigenous Tribes Protect the Amazon
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