The government has noted increased contact from the tribe recently

July 28, 2015 10:15 AM

The Mascho Piro, also known as the Mashco-Piro, are an isolated tribe who live in remote regions of the Amazon rainforest in Peru. Around the turn of the millennium, there were an estimated 100 to 250 Mascho Piro living in Mané National Park, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. Now, the Peruvian government has decided it’s time to say hello.

Outreach to isolated or “uncontacted” tribes, even with good intentions, can be problematic because the tribes haven’t developed immunity to common diseases. Peru’s government is taking this step, however, because other groups have forced its hand: Last September, Adventist missions left food and clothes for the tribe at the border of the National Park, and tour companies advertise “human safaris” that promise glimpses of the tribe along riverbanks.

Anthropologists Robert Walker (of the University of Missouri) and Kim Hill (of Arizona State) wrote an editorial in the journal Science that argues for controlled interaction with tribes like the Mascho Piro, however.

“A well-designed contact can be quite safe, compared to the disastrous outcomes from accidental contacts,” they wrote. “But safe contact requires a qualified team of cultural translators and health care professionals that is committed to staying on site for more than a year.”

The government’s decision is also spurred by increased sightings of the tribe. “In 2014, there were 70 sightings of Mashco Piro on the beaches of the river,” Peru’s deputy minister of multiculturalism, Patricia Balbuena, told the newspaper El Comercio. In 2015, she said, the tribe has been responsible for five raids on local communities.

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