Kayapo Territorial Surveillance Report

Activities and Results  June 2021 – January 2022

The effectiveness of the Kayapo territorial surveillance program was demonstrated again in 2021 (Map 1). The Kayapo blocked goldmining, logging, predatory fishing, and encroachment by ranchers along all but about 160 km of their 2,200-km border—and this in a region of high threat with next to no enforcement and tacit support of the government for illegal activity in protected areas.

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Map 1. 2021 fire and deforestation events in 9.4 million hectares of Kayapo territory (outlined in red) and 500,000 hectares of the neighbouring Panara indigenous people (outlined in orange) that receive philanthropic investment remains intact whereas 1.2 million hectares of Kayapo territory that does not form part of the NGO alliance (outlined in purple) and receives no conservation and development investment is heavily invaded by goldmining and logging. (note: fire on savanna patches is natural during the summer dry season and does not indicate anthropomorphic deforestation)

Guard Posts

The three Kayapo NGOs managed to implement their territorial surveillance programs throughout the dry season months of the pandemic in 2020. Surveillance was the sole program able to function in 2020 and saved Kayapo territory from extensive and probably irreversible invasion. Kayapo territorial surveillance produced outstanding forest protection results again in 2021. Two new guard posts were added to western border defense in 2021; Kawatum and Kubenkokre, bringing the total to 12 guard posts that operated from June or July until mid-December.  Guard posts signal to outside society that the Kayapo are organized to defend and control access to their territory. Invasions occur only where there is no consistent Kayapo surveillance presence.

The twelve guard posts generated a total of US$ 300,000 income for Kayapo communities of the NGO alliance. This amount is less than the total amounts offered by loggers and gold-miners; but conservation investment (payment for ecosystem services) is more powerful than bribes because of equitable distribution among community members -who then become incentivized to organize internally against illegal activity.

The sociological context is that hierarchies of authority do not really exist in Kayapo society: i.e, Kayapo do not tell other Kayapo what to do. For example, if someone accepts a bribe to open a door to goldminers or loggers and other community members do not agree, there is little social recourse for individuals to stop it.  However, when everyone benefits, community members find means to unite against individuals engaging in detrimental activities that would cancel the group benefits. To guarantee the equitable distribution of income, guard post teams rotate weekly or bi-weekly with the number of weeks each community provides a team proportional to community size such that smaller communities work fewer weeks than larger communities with more members.


To augment Kayapo presence along vulnerable sections of border unmonitored by a guard post, Kayapo NGOs enabled several communities to undertake a total of 10 expeditions by river and on foot. These expeditions served the purposes last year of:

  • holding ranchers at bay by re-clearing 20 km of an 80-km section of dry line trail (i.e. border not demarcated by a river) and for verifying location of the official boundary, included relocating official federal government geodesic markers fixed to the ground to demarcate indigenous territory;
  • with the remote, fly-in communities of the upper Riozinho river initiating a program of land-based surveillance and territorial occupation along a difficult access interior border;
  • reinforcing the narrative of protection and sustainable development with the remote community of Kubenkranken that was subject to manipulation by goldminers during the pandemic because of the absence of their local NGO;
  • beginning consistent surveillance by the Kayapo of the vast interior of TI Bau and giving notice to small historical goldmining operations there that their time had run out;
  • initiating the ultimately successful process of deactivating a dangerous road-accessible goldmine that has begun just inside the Kayapo’s northern border.


  • access by loggers along the western border of the huge Kayapo territory of Mekragnoti was ended definitively
  • The Novo Horizonte goldmine in the interior of TI Bau that was shut down by the community of Bau in late 2020 remains abandoned
  • Goldminers lost their effort to persuade the remote interior community of Kubenkranken to allow them entry.



  • A slice of northwestern Kayapo territory TI Bau bounded by about 160 km of exposed border west of the Curua River and lying adjacent the BR 163 highway was largely unprotected before 2021; and the result was invasion by goldminers and loggers in 2021. (In 2022 reinforced surveillance by the community of Bau will hold this invasion to the western bank of the Curua river, thereby protecting over 1.3 million hectares of the rest of TI Bau).




“We had many problems and difficulties; vehicles breaking down, teams having to move location at night, boats sinking, loggers threatening guards, trees falling on post living quarters, scorpion stings, and various other difficulties that happened on a daily basis -but we held strong -determined to fulfill our commitment to protect Kayapo territory against illegal predators” 


Director of Kayapo surveillance, December 2021

The Iriri post presents the most challenging access.
Supplying this post requires travel by truck over 300 km of dirt track (very bad road) from the nearest supply town of São Felix do Xingu followed by an eight hour boat trip upriver to the base which becomes a two day boat trip during the dry season of low water.


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