Paraguay cancels British science expedition

Paraguay denied authorization Monday for a British-led scientific expedition to catalog plants and animals in the country's remote northern corner, saying there isn't enough time to consult with relatives of nomadic Indians who try to remain isolated as they pass through the area.

The non-governmental Amotocoide Initiative, an advocacy group for native Ayoreo Indians who live in the dry forests of northern Paraguay, had warned that scientists might carry European diseases to the Indians, leave trash or otherwise suffer violent encounters.

Isabel Basualdo, director of the biodiversity office of Paraguay's environmental ministry, said in a statement that the decision follows the recommendation of the Interamerican Human Rights Commission that public hearings and all other legal requirements are complied with before such a visit.

Richard Lane, the British Natural History museum's director of science, said the expedition had been suspended while consultations take place.

"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," Lane said in a statement.

Biologists with the museum have led similar expeditions around the world to verify and document new species, thus contributing to habitat conservation efforts.

But some anthropologists who advocate for the Ayoreos say no outsiders should enter these dry forests, where small bands of people are still trying to live in isolation from the modern world.

Irene Gauto, who represents the private environmental group Guyra Paraguay, told The Associated Press that the environment ministry "sent a letter to the British museum arguing that, for now, it's better to delay the visit of the scientists because there hasn't been time enough to hold public hearings with the relatives of the forest-dwelling Ayoreos," one of 20 surviving indigenous groups living in Paraguay.

The trip was to begin Saturday to the Chovoreca and Cabrera-Timane hills near Paraguay's border with Bolivia and Brazil, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) northeast of the capital. The scientists planned to catalog species on a private cattle ranch within a Paraguayan nature reserve. The ranch's owners approved the trip and said indigenous people didn't live there, Gauto said.

The government appeared ready to approve the trip. But the situation changed after a leader of the Totobiegosode subgroup of Ayoreos, Chiri Etacori, said about two dozen nomadic Ayoreos wander through the area.