Friday, 8 July 2011
Natural History Museum cancels its biggest expedition in 50 years.
The museum had hoped to send out scientists last year to discover hundreds of new species in the ‘Gran Chaco’, a vast dry forest that has as much wildlife as the Amazon but is relatively unknown.
However, human rights groups protested that the 40 scientists and their large backup teams could stumble upon groups of indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation, and pass on dangerous and even fatal diseases. There was also concern that the scientists would be in danger from the Ayoreo tribe, who can carry bow and arrows.
The trip was suspended in November to allow for consultation with the tribes. The Paraguayan Ministry of the Environment, that is leading talks with the Ayoreo, believe an expedition can go ahead at some point in the future and are keen to try and document the unknown wildlife in the area.
The vast area of dry forest across parts of Bolivia, Argentina as well as Paraguay, known as the Gran Chaco, is the only place in South America outside the Amazon where there are uncontracted tribes. Until about 1950 it was thought there were around 5,000 people in the area but now there are thought to be less than 150 as people leave or die out.
The area is under threat not only from illegal logging but farmers planting soy.
The museum argues that the best way to protect the Gran Chaco is to start documenting the insects and plant in the area, many of which will be new to science, but at the moment the concerns of the Ayoreo tribal leaders have not been resolved and until talks are resolved there will be no expedition.