Indigenous rights’ groups and WWF International are beginning to train Andean tribes people deep within the Amazon rainforest in the use of drones so that they, as forest-dwelling specialists, can help protect wildlife, and identify, compile evidence for, and report on, illegal logging activities.
The WWF teamed up with the Kaninde Ethno-Environmental Defense Association, a civil-society made up of biologists, foresters, cartographers, anthropologists, specialists in healthcare and information technology, and journalists to run a drone-operating course for five separate Indigenous tribes including the Uru Eu Wau Wau, who reside in the state of Rondonia in western Brazil.
With the drones, tribes have been able to create high-resolution images, video, and GPS coordinates of logging sites, Brazil nut tree stands—a valuable sources of income—and prime habitat for vulnerable species like the harpy eagle, the largest in the accipitridae family, and a bird that’s sacred to the Uru Eu Wau Wau.
Illegal logging is one of the major causes for the rash of wildfires experienced in the Amazon over the last 24 months, as cattle ranchers burn down forest to make way for pastureland.
According to Felipe Spina Avino, the senior conservation analyst for WWF-Brazil who helped organize and run the drone-training program, the technology is surprisingly well-taken to by Indigenous groups, and it gives them a greater capacity to utilize their ancestral knowledge of the forest to protect it from loggers.
“They can compile a case with a lot of evidence that they can send to the authorities which then have much greater pressure and much greater resource to act upon the illegal activities that are going on,” he told CNN.
Apparently, the first time the team used the technology, they discovered a 1.4-acre area of clear-cut land, over which they eventually recorded sightings of a helicopter spreading grass seed, suggesting whoever cleared the forest planned on using it for cattle pasturing; an illegal activity.
COVID-19, and the perceived susceptibility of Indigenous groups to the virus, has prevented Brazilian government officials from stationing too many authority bodies to stop loggers and ranchers lighting fires in the Amazon. As a result, this year’s logging activities have been worse according to an Indigenous rights’ group Survival International.
The drone project, which can cost as little as $2,000 for equipment and training per group, helps tip the balance back towards tribes like the Uru Eu Wau Wau.
(WATCH the WWF video of the drones in action below.)