Peru Amazon's rare species, uncontacted tribes face risks from logging

The Miami HeraldNovember 15, 2010 

Armed with arrows, Carmelino Vasquez scurried down the jungle path, swinging his machete with the cadence of a grandfather clock. After almost an hour on foot, he swept his bow skyward to signal the end of the hunt.

"Caoba," he declared, struggling to mouth the Spanish word for mahogany, a rare species of tropical hardwood coveted for its reddish brown color and elegant grain.

Here in the vast wilderness surrounding Peru's Alto Purús National Park, the locations of such trees, worth tens of thousands of dollars in the United States, have become closely guarded secrets among members of indigenous tribes.

Industrial logging is pushing ever deeper into the area, making mahogany the leading front in the ever-growing battle for control of the resource-rich Peruvian Amazon. But the threat goes far beyond any single species, said Chris Fagan, director of the Upper Amazon Conservancy.

Deforestation and the quickly advancing logging frontier have forced still-uncontacted people into violent conflict with settlers, while threatening the sanctity of one of the last, most bio-diverse places on Earth. And scientists fear for the region's vast forests, which act as an enormous sponge, soaking in the pollutants responsible for climate change.

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