Sacred Land News

July 25, 2010
Illegal Mahogany Logging Threatens Uncontacted Peruvian Tribes
Posted by: Amberly Polidor

Logging settlement in the headwaters of the Mapuya River near the border of the Alto Purús National Park inside the Murunahua Reserve. © 2010 Chris Fagan/Upper Amazon Conservancy Widespread illegal harvesting of mahogany — bound for the United States and other world markets — continues inside a Peruvian reserve for uncontacted indigenous tribes, according to a report released this month by the nonprofit Upper Amazon Conservancy.

The UAC’s year-long investigation documented logging settlements and felled trees throughout the 1.2-million-acre Muruanahua Territorial Reserve for Indigenous People in Voluntary Isolation. The reserve and adjacent Alto Purús National Park are part of the largest network of protected areas in Peru and home to at least three uncontacted groups, the largest concentration of isolated tribes in Peru and possibly the world.

UAC initially discovered a large logging operation in the headwaters of the Mapuya River, near the border with Alto Purús, in March 2009. In April of this year, a flyover observation revealed large rafts of recently cut mahogany boards, indicating that the settlement continues to be used as a transport center for illegal wood. The group also identified a separate logging settlement on the lower Mapuya. Both sites, according to local people interviewed by UAC, have been in use for several years.

The report notes that loggers are also targeting titled indigenous community lands along the Yurua River, adjacent to the reserve. In recent years, logging companies have “aggressively pursued” logging agreements with these communities, which contain “some of the last commercially viable mahogany stands anywhere in Peru outside of protected areas.” Unfortunately, loggers often employ exploitative practices with the communities. According to the report, “a vast network of logging roads” crosses the area, “providing a fleet of over a dozen tractors with easy access to the forests all along the Yurua.”

Ironically, along the route out of this remote area, the wood passes a forestry control post constructed specifically to stop the transport of illegal wood. However, according to the report, “the wood is laundered with forestry permits intended for legal logging operations in registered timber concessions and community lands… thus, when the wood is finally trucked to Lima, it contains export documentation required by the United States.”

With the United States receiving more than 80 percent of Peru’s mahogany exports, the 2008 amendment to the Lacey Act — which outlaws the import, possession and sale of illegally sourced wood — is almost certainly being violated. The illegal logging means that Peru is also failing to uphold its forestry obligations under a 2009 U.S. free trade agreement, as well as violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.Murunahua man who recently left the isolation of his tribal homeland to live a settled lifestyle on the Yurua River. © 2010 Chris Fagan/Upper Amazon Conservancy

Illegal logging harms uncontacted tribes by invading the lands that sustain them. The UAC report also notes that the encroachment of loggers into Murunahua homelands is likely driving some members of the tribe to join settled communities on the Yurua River. But what’s more, loggers bring diseases against which the tribes have no natural defenses. According to Survival International, after the isolated Murunahua tribe came in contact with loggers in the 1990s, more than half the population died, primarily from transmitted infections.

The UAC report urges Peruvian authorities to do more to combat illegal logging, but notes that the illegal activity, and resulting endangerment of vulnerable indigenous tribes, will likely continue “until the U.S. government unilaterally rejects questionable Peruvian mahogany.”

Likewise, Survival International’s David Hill, in an interview with, said, “The only ways to stop this happening is for U.S. buyers to reject any Peruvian mahogany, or the U.S. government to ban exports temporarily. Until that happens, people in the U.S. have no idea where the wood they’re buying is actually coming from.”

Learn more about illegal mahogany logging and its impact on indigenous tribes in our Alto Purús sacred site report.

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