Fear for uncontacted tribes halts expedition

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The British Natural History Museum has been forced to call off a planned scientific expedition to Paraguay following concern for the safety of indigenous people.

The Museum was planning to send several dozen botanists and zoologists to the Chaco forest, where several uncontacted tribes are believed to live. But fears were raised that the team could pass on dangerous diseases.

"The Ministry for the Environment of Paraguay, one of our partners on the joint Natural History Museum and Paraguayan expedition to the Dry Chaco region, has decided to undertake further consultation with the Ayoreo people," says the museum in a statement.

"The Natural History Museum supports this approach to ensure the community is properly informed and consulted. There will be a suspension of activities while this takes place."

The expedition was to have been one of the museum's largest in years, and there are still hopes that it may go ahead after further consultation. It was expected that it would discover several hundred new species of plants and insects.

"We believe that this expedition to scientifically record the richness and diversity of the animals and plants in this remote region is extremely important for the future management of this fragile habitat," says the museum.

"However, the Natural History Museum would only ever undertake field work within the laws and regulations of our partner countries."

The fear of disease is a very real one. The last member of the Bo tribe in India's Andaman islands died earlier this year, for example, after a new road brought disease to the tribe. In Peru, a few years ago, one tribe lost half its members after coming into contact with illegal loggers.