Uncontacted tribe discovered in the Amazon

Officials from Brazil‘s National Indian Foundation (Funai) have announced the discovery of another uncontacted tribe living deep inside the Amazon Jungle. The tribe is estimated to have a population of about 200 people who have continued to live in the same natural manner for centuries, untouched by the modern world.

Evidence of the tribe first surfaced when researchers spotted a small clearing while reviewing satellite images of the Amazon. The clearing intrigued them enough to conduct a flyover of the region in April, which produced photographs that showed several small huts clustered together in the rainforest near a copse of banana trees. The images that were taken also provided enough data to allow Funai to estimate the size of the tribe.

The tribe is said to be just one of several living in the Vale do Javari region of the Amazon, which is amongst its most remote places on the planet. Researchers believe that there are as many as 14 uncontacted tribes still living in that area, with roughly 2000 people amongst them.

In recent years, it has been the policy of the Brazilian government to avoid contacting these tribes in remote regions and to work instead to preserve their environments. That will be the case with this most recently discovered community as well, although their lifestyle is ultimately threatened by a number of outside forces. For example, deforestation, mining, hunting, and numerous other environmental concerns are taking their toll on the Amazon, which could eventually have an impact on these tribes as well.

Still, I think it’s amazing that there are people in remote places that have yet to be visited by outsiders. We really do live on an amazing planet.

New report says Amazon reveals one new species every three days

2010 has been declared the International Year of Biodiversity to help raise awareness of the vast numbers of species that exist on our planet and the challenges that now threaten many of them with extinction. There is no place on the planet that exemplifies the concept of biodiversity like the Amazon jungle, which is home to thousands of different animal species and tens of thousands of plants. But as striking as those numbers are, a new report indicates that we’re still discovering new species at a surprising rate.

The World Wildlife Fund recently released a comprehensive study entitled Amazon Alive: A Decade of Discoveries 1999-2009 which details some of the amazing plants and animals that have been found in the rainforest over the past ten years. During that time frame, a total of 637 plants, 257 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 16 birds and 39 mammals have been discovered in the Amazon basin. Those numbers represent one new species of plant or animal has been found every three days for the bast decade!

Amongst the new species that were discovered between 1999 and 2009 are a breed of pink river dolphin that exist only in Bolivia and a new species of anaconda that stretches four meters in length and is a master at hiding amongst the trees. Biologists have also found a bald species of parrot that is spectacularly colored and a large, blue-fanged spider that preys on birds.

In the report the WWF also emphasizes how important it is to protect these species and the rainforest in general. The Amazon plays an important role in our planets ecosystem, and in recent years it has come under threat from massive deforestation efforts.

With a new species found every three days, this is just the tip of the iceberg for what has been uncovered in the Amazon over the past ten years. These kinds of reports are a great reminder about how amazing our planet is, and how much we still have to learn about it. It is also a good reminder of why we should take good care of it as well.

[Photo credit: Chris Funk]

Win a travel documentary scholarship to the Amazon

Gap Adventures and National Geographic are teaming up to give one aspiring filmmaker the chance of a lifetime. The two organizations are giving away a film scholarship that will allow the recipient to work with veteran film producer Trent O’Donnell, who will mentor the budding documentarian in the art of making a film, while exploring the depths of the Amazon Rainforest. And once the project is finished, the film may make its debut on the Nat. Geo Adventure Channel, an opportunity filmmakers often wait years to get.

This scholarship is open to anyone, whether you’re a film student or not, with the only requirements being that you must be at least 18 years of age, and hold a current passport. You should also have a healthy sense of adventure, a love of films, and be reasonably fit, as there will be some jungle trekking involved.

All applicants are required to make a 3-minute video, in English, based around the theme “Local Encounters”. The video should demonstrate your love of adventure, and show how your “encounter” changed your perspective on the world. A panel of judges will review the entries, looking for originality, the ability to tell an engaging story, and a passion for filmmaking. Once your film is complete, upload it to YouTube and head over to WorldNomads.com to fill out the scholarship application. From there, you’ll complete the process by embedding your film and telling the judges about it in 200 words or less. The deadline for entry is August 1st.

The winner won’t just get the opportunity to make a film with Trent O’Donnell. They’ll also receive a flight to Quito, Ecuador sometime in the last two weeks of September, where they’ll have the chance to explore the Amazon with O’Donnell and Bruce Poon Tip, the founder of Gap Adventures. They’ll actually stay in the rainforest with the local Quichua tribes, learning about their way of life, and creating a film on sustainable tourism.

To find out more about this great opportunity, click here. Then go blow the dust off your video camera and get filming. Who knows, you might be on your way to the Amazon in just a few short months.

Archaeologists find ancient geoglyphs carved in the Amazon Jungle

As deforestation clears away more and more of the Amazon Jungle, archaeologists are discovering some surprising things hidden beneath the thick green canopy. Researchers have found a number of ancient geometric shapes, known as geoglyphs, that are believed to have been carved into the earth more than 700 years ago by indigenous tribes living in the region.

According to this story from Treehugger.com, researchers are using Google Earth to examine recently cleared sections of the Amazon Rainforest. So far, they’ve been able to identify more than 300 geoglyphs, most of which had previously gone unseen due to being covered by the jungle and in some cases, the enormous size of the carvings. As of yet, scientists are unsure as to the purpose of the geoglyphs, as they are often completely undetectable from the ground and seem to serve little practical purpose.

To give you a sense of the scale of these geoglyphs, Archaeologists say that they are often as much as 12 meters wide and 4 deep, and can spread out over hundreds of meters in length. They were apparently constructed while the jungle was at the height of its growth, which makes their existence all the more puzzling and astounding.

While the researchers discovering these carvings continue to be amazed by what they find, it comes with a bit of sadness as well. These ancient constructs would remain hidden if it wasn’t for the massive deforestation that continues in the Amazon, a process that could have an irrevocable impact on the Earth’s environment.

British man is walking the length of the Amazon

Ed Stafford is either really brave or really crazy. Likely it’s a little of both. The 33-year old British man is now 436 days into his attempt to walk the entire length of the Amazon River, starting at its source, and eventually finishing up at its mouth along the coast of Brazil, where it enters into the Atlantic Ocean.

Stafford, a former captain in the British Army, began his epic journey in April of 2008, and is now more than 2000 miles in, or roughly halfway to his goal. He wanders the high ground as much as possible, and sometimes has to go well out of his way to stay on dry land, especially during the rainy season, when the Amazon can swell to massive proportions, and spill over its banks for miles in all directions. Stafford does carry an inflatable raft for navigating across the larger tributaries however, and on the Amazon, there are many.

As if hiking for 4000 miles wasn’t challenging enough, the jungle that surround the river provides plenty more obstacles as well. Stafford has to deal with wild animals, including some of the world’s most dangerous insects and snakes, and when he enters the waters of the Amazon, he has to deal with electric eels, piranha, and caiman as well. On top of that, there is the constant threat of malaria or yellow fever, which runs rampant in the Amazon basin, and there are still plenty of tribes that live in the jungle that are not exactly accommodating to outsiders.
According to Ed’s website, he expects to finish up his journey sometime in 2010. In the meantime, you can follow his adventure by reading his daily blog and following his Twitter feed.

On a personal note, having recently visited a section of the Amazon that Ed has just passed through, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is one of the most ambitious and demanding expeditions that I have ever heard of. I had the opportunity to trek through portions of the jungle, and it was demanding work, made all the more difficult by the constant heat and humidity. To read my thoughts on the Amazon and more about my travels there, be sure to check out my Adventures on the Amazon series.