Isolated Amazon tribe makes contact with scientists

A never-before-contacted tribe in Brazil's Amazon voluntarily emerged from the forest and approached scientists, according to an announcement from the country's Indian affairs department (FUNAI).

Science Now reported that on June 29, the group of Brazilian scientists had made the first official contact with an isolated tribe in 18 years.

It wasn't an accident that the scientists were in the area, the Science Now article said. "The event -- Brazil’s first official contact with an isolated tribe since 1996 -- was not entirely unexpected. Since early June, fearful villagers in the region had radioed Brazilian authorities at least twice about a group of some 35 tribal strangers who were raiding their crops and trying to make off with machetes and other tools," it said.

FUNAI quickly sent experts to the Upper Envira River region in case the indigenous tribe wanted to make contact.

According to Science Now, there are at least 70 isolated tribes in the Brazilian Amazon, and many more in the broader rainforest. Most have already made some sort of contact with the outside world, mainly through rubber harvesters and mahogany loggers.

In fact, FUNAI officials think that this indigenous tribe -- whose language is still unknown -- fled mahogany loggers working illegally on protected lands in Peru, some 186 miles away from where they emerged. The loggers could have driven off the animals the tribe hunted, leaving them no choice but to migrate.

Whatever the reason they chose to emerge from the forest on June 29, the most important thing to do now, experts said, is to protect the tribe's members from contracting dangerous diseases they're not protected from, like the flu and whooping cough. The elderly and very young are most at risk.

Between 1983 and 1985, over half of another isolated population in the Peruvian Amazon died from illnesses they contracted from loggers, Science Now said.