UPDATED: Photo of one of the world's last "uncontacted" tribes

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If you’ve seen Wade Davis’s unforgettable 2004 TED Talk — where he evokes the magic of the world’s cultural diversity, and speaks so eloquently about the alarming rate with which cultures and languages are dying — then you might find this photo as heart-stopping as I did.


It’s so surreal, I thought at first it must be a hoax. But Reuters just picked the story up, and I’m going to assume they did my fact-checking for me. The photo shows members of one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes, who were spotted and photographed from the air in a remote corner of the Amazon rainforest near the Brazil-Peru border.

Survival International, an advocacy group for tribal people, released the photos on their website and quotes Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior, who works for the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs department: “We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist …This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.”

“What is happening in this region is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the ‘civilized’ ones, treat the world,” Meirelles said.

Apparently, more than 100 uncontacted tribes remain worldwide, with half living in Brazil or Peru. Extraordinary.

UPDATE: Meirelles has admitted that while the tribe is not “uncontacted” — it’s been known since 1910 — the direct threat it faces from loggers drew him to be part of this photo. The group’s rainforest home, on the border between Brazil and Peru, is under pressure from logging, and Meirelles hoped the dramatic photo would convince people in the industry to protect the tribe’s habitat.