Changing Planet

Five “Uncontacted Tribes” Most Threatened With Extinction

Uncontacted tribes were in the world spotlight exactly one year ago when photos were released showing Indians, deep in the Brazilian Amazon, aiming bows and arrows at a government aircraft circling overhead.


Photo of the uncontacted tribe photographed last year in the Brazilian Amazon, near the Peruvian border.

© Gleison Miranda/FUNAI

“The photos made headlines around the world and threw uncontacted tribes into the international spotlight, provoking public outrage at the threats to their land, livelihoods and lives,” said Survival, an itinternational indigenous-rights group based in the UK.

“In spite of this, however, uncontacted tribes around the world are facing extinction,” the British-based organization said in a report, “Uncontacted Tribes Face Extinction,” published on the anniversary of last year’s photos. “Governments, companies and others ignore their rights, and invade and destroy their land with impunity.”


Members of the Paraguayan Ayoreo-Totobiegosode group the moment they were contacted for the first time, in 2004.

© GAT/Survival

The report exposes the plight of the world’s most threatened uncontacted tribes.

They live in five locations in three South American countries: Paraguay, Brazil and Peru.

They are just a few of the more than 100 uncontacted tribes known to exist worldwide, in South America, the Indian Ocean, and on the island of New Guinea, Survival said.


Members of the Paraguayan Ayoreo-Totobiegosode group on the day they were contacted for the first time, in 2004.

© GAT/Survival

“Uncontacted tribes face two principal threats to their survival,” the report says.

“By far the greatest is their lack of immunity to common Western diseases such as influenza, chicken pox, measles, and a host of respiratory diseases.

“Even where ‘first contact’ between an isolated tribe and outsiders is carefully managed, it is common for significant numbers of tribespeople to die in the months following contact.

“Where such encounters are not managed, with medical plans in place, the entire tribe, or a large proportion of it, can be wiped out.”


Such catastrophes have occurred repeatedly in the Amazon, and not just in the distant past: in 1996, for example, at least half the Murunahua Indians died after they were contacted by illegal mahogany loggers, according to Survival.

The other key threat is simply violence: in several of the cases outlined in the report the tribespeople face gangs of heavily-armed loggers who are likely to shoot them on sight, Survival said.

Uncontacted Mashco-Piro Indian woman spotted from the air, S.E.Peru, 2007.

© Heinz Plenge Pardo / Frankfurt Zoological Society

“Publication of the photos a year ago brought about a huge groundswell of support for the plight of uncontacted tribal people. But many governments still refuse to take the simple step – properly protecting their territories – that will actually ensure the tribes’ survival.


The five most threatened uncontacted tribes are:

  • Indians of the Pardo River, Brazil
  • The Awá, Brazil (see picture below)
  • Indians between the Napo and Tigre Rivers, Peru
  • Indians of the Envira River, Peru
  • The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode, Paraguay



Awá men hunting in the forest.

© Fiona Watson/Survival


Awá men travel down a road cut by loggers.

© Uirá Garcia

“These groups are all experiencing the invasion of their lands–by loggers, ranchers, colonists and oil companies–and all are at grave risk of being decimated by diseases to which they have no immunity,” Survival said in a news release announcing the report.

“The Awá, Rio Pardo Indians and Envira River Indians are all falling victim to the blight of illegal hardwood logging which is penetrating even the remotest parts of the Amazon.

“The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode of the Chaco scrub forests in western Paraguay, on the other hand, are experiencing the illegal clearance of their forests by cattle ranchers. Satellite photos taken over the past year have revealed huge areas illegally cleared in the Indians’ heartland.


Uncontacted Mashco-Piro Indians spotted from the air, S.E.Peru, 2007.

© Heinz Plenge Pardo / Frankfurt Zoological Society


Uncontacted Indians’ fishing shelters spotted on river bank, S.E. Peru, 2008.

© C. Fagan

“In the far north of Peru, the Indians living between the Napo and Tigre Rivers are caught in the middle of Peru’s oil boom. In recent years 75 percent of Peru’s Amazon has been carved up into oil and gas exploration concessions. Peru’s President has denied the existence of isolated Indians in the Napo/Tigre area, despite abundant evidence of their existence.”

Survival’s report calls on the governments of Paraguay, Brazil and Peru urgently to protect the tribes’ lands.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said, “Publication of the photos a year ago caused a huge groundswell of support for the plight of uncontacted tribal people. Many had not realised that such people exist, let alone that there are more than 100 uncontacted tribes around the world. But many governments still refuse to take the simple step–properly protecting their territories–that will actually ensure the tribes’ survival.”


Crossed spears found on a path in northern Peru, in the region where oil company Perenco is working. Crossed spears are a common sign used by uncontacted Indians to warn outsiders to stay away.

© Marek Wolodzko/Survival


Hastily abandoned house of the Rio Pardo Indians, Brazil.



Find more information about uncontacted people on the Survival Web site

Help Survival help indigenous people all over the world >>


Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • Lucien Alexandre Marion

    For the whole world to know about…Thank you-Merci NatGeo NewsWatch and News Editor David Braun. One word…AMAZING

  • inter4522

    I think this is so amazing that there is still tribes out there that nobody knows about. I thought we covered every area in the world. I think this is so cool to read about.
    digital scales

  • jiji22

    The Society is governed by a twenty-three member Board of Trustees composed of a group of distinguished educators, leading business executives, former governmental officials, and conservationists.

  • cedarboy1

    Modern man has no business here.Leave these people and their resources alone,we are trespassing here.We a have plenty to do taking care of our on business.This land is their land,they have not sold or given any of it to any outsiders.This Society is governed by it’s on.No board,trustees,educators,executives, government officials have no claims or authority here.These people desperately need a long course in M.Y.O.B.

  • Husker

    The other key threat is simply violence: in several of the cases outlined in the report the tribespeople face gangs of heavily-armed loggers who are likely to shoot them on sight, Survival said.

  • rhedda

    “Modern man” will defy your petition…every time

    now modern man has found them,
    now they are doomed

  • james dixon


  • gangadharan nambiar t k

    would you all please leave them alone/ you modern men have no right to be there.

  • Rights?

    What rights are these? What if these people took the land from some other peoples. The only one who has a right to be there is whoever made the land, or was given that land by the one who did make it.

  • N. Leong Por

    Leave them alone !!!!!

  • Jason S

    It’s a complicated issue. There are good and bad things that come with contact with the modern world. I only see people talking about the bad things. These people don’t have medicine or a number of other technological advances that have eased so much suffering. We don’t think about those because we take them for granted. I say it’s best to make an effort to NOT contact these people because it’s a safe assumption that they don’t want to be contacted. It will happen eventually, regardless. But remember: all ‘modern’ people come from a culture that is now extinct – and they aren’t exactly suffering for it.

  • kisten moonsamy

    please dont interfere and invade indian tribal areas enough of their land has being taken away by the so called colonisers . Its their GOD given right to possess their lands. Leave them alone

  • jake

    these people have survived in the wilderness on there own for hundreds of years and they are probably happier than most of us!, leave them and there land the f#$k alone seems to be the only threat to them is us.. sad that mans greed blinds them to all that is worth keeping so they destroy it and for what!!! future generations will have nothing. i believe the way these people live is the way its meant to be. the “advancement” we call life as we know it is so material and fake

  • Matsai

    leave them alone

  • the orozco family

    my 11 yr old daughters wants to add “what if you where them? would you want for someone to mess with your way of living?…… I DON’T THINK SO!!!”

    Lets all remember what has happen to all of the other tribes and groups of individuals who have come in contact with people “who knew what is best for them”. Need I remind you all of Trail of Tears or what happened to the Native Americans, who have STILL NOT been re-compensated for all of their suffering over generations. They ARE STILL in the same barren wastelands we “settled” them in 100’s of years ago. Let us not repeat those same mistakes.

  • Amy

    What a great opportunity to reach the tribes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Thanks for sharing.

  • Tessa

    Wow, Amy. Have some respect for people and their own beliefs instead of going and forcing yours on others. Why don’t you go to China and teach all the Buddhists about Jesus? Or is this just about taking advantage of people without a traditional education and teaching them what you believe and if they don’t they will be condemned to hell. Man, with people like you they are better off without us. Self-centered Christians. Maybe they would see you as a good opportunity to teach you their religion… who says your way is the right way? We have no reason to impose any of our lifestyle on them. Jason just because they don’t have pharmaceutical companies doesn’t mean they don’t have medicine. You assume they are suffering without some of our technologies because YOU would suffer without them. We should all let these people be unless they are starving and even then we should help them out of the kindness of our hearts for other human beings and not in exchange for their devotion to Jesus like these horrible missionary people do. Sickening.

  • Caitlin

    I am 15, and doing a project for school about different tribes just like this. It is amazing to know that their are so many different people in the world with so many different practices and believes. I enjoyed reading all of the comments that people had written except for the ones that called other people out. In my opinion, i think that these tribes are fine how they are. If it took so long for them to be discovered, then they obviously weren’t looking for publicity. I personally do not think modern man should affect their culture, but i do think it would make a nice place for devoted missionaries to go to. Not necessarily to spread the word of the Lord, but to spread the love of the rest of the world. That way, if these tribes are in any form of distress later on, they will know who they count on for security. This is just my opinion, so please dont take it to heart. Thank you.

  • asanda

    wish these pple could be left alone,they ddnt need us!..they are happy jst where they are and infact we are danger to them

  • Himeraj

    Land belongs to everyone, so was water, and air. They have all the rights to be there and besides, it is illegal to purchase lands with tribes in it, as it would be a protected land under the governments control.

  • sha

    To Amy. Thats the same mentality that started slavery and destruction to the entire continent of South America.

  • eben

    Before 1400, we the people of Africa lived happily in our tribes. then came these “civilized ” Europeans, stole everything, n enslaved us by force,.without leaving anything for us.. now look at Africa. please let them be. they hv existed hapilly for more than 2000 years without your helping.

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