An Amazonian isolated village, with natives in the background. Some of them can be seen with their bows readied to shoot the small plane or drone used to take their picture. Photo: Government of Brazil

An Amazonian isolated village, with natives in the background. Some of them can be seen with their bows readied to shoot the small plane or drone used to take their picture. Photo: Government of Brazil

The so-called developing world is riddled with isolated communities that hear little or any news from the outside world. It takes a lot of imagination, however, to understand how the few people, part of the last remaining, truly pure indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin,  must live like. Located deep in the Amazon rainforest, members of such communities continue to live like their forefathers had for thousand of years, with no sign they ever came in contact with civilization, apart from airplane flybys – one can only wonder what they’re thinking in moments like those. Deforestation, mining or colonization is threatening the indigenous lifestyle, which is why only less than 100 uncontacted tribal communities exist. Keeping track of them is a tedious task, since any intervention obviously defeats the purpose – one must not make contact with them, if these communities are to be preserved.

Researchers  from the University of Missouri and the University of New Mexico made use of modern tools to track and estimate the demographic of one particular village of isolated people on the border between Brazil and Peru. What’s amazing is that they used Google Earth for their purposes, an open and public satellite imaging service that can be used by anyone. The images gave invaluable insight otherwise impossible that allowed the researchers to estimate the area of the fields and the size of the village belonging to the tribe. By their account, no more than 40 people live in this particular village, based on the information they gathered for comparative purposes from 71 other Brazilian indigenous communities.

“A remote surveillance program using satellite images taken periodically of this group would help track the movements and demographic health of the population without disrupting their lives,” said Dr Rob Walker, the first author of a paper appearing in theAmerican Journal of Human Biology.

The study shows that this method is valuable for tracking uncontacted indigenous communities and should be used for gathering more data. A complete survey of such communities might aid shape policies that mitigate the threats of extinction including deforestation, illegal mining and colonization in these remote areas.

“Additionally, surveillance also can help locate isolated villages, track patterns of migration over time, and inform and create boundaries or buffer zones that would allow tribes to stay isolated,” Dr Walker added.

Amazonia harbors as many as 100 locations of isolated indigenous peoples.

“Deforestation, cattle ranching, illegal mining, and outside colonization threaten their existence. Most of these tribes are swidden horticulturalists and so their slash-and-burn fields are observable in satellite images,” Dr Walker said.

“But, they do move around, sometimes in response to external threats, and this movement requires constant monitoring if there is to be any hope of preserving their habitat and culture.”

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