GLobal wildlife conservation: guest blog


The Spirit of Survival – Written by: LINDSAY RENICK MAYER from Global Wildlife Conservation Original Blog


Kayapo Indigenous People Call on World to Help Protect Amazonia Against Extractive Industry, Brazilian Government


That was how the Kayapo Indigenous people approached the illegal goldmining camp that had, for months, been destroying part of the Amazon rainforest, home to countless animals and plants, and polluting the nearby river in the Kayapo’s ratified territory of Bau.

As 17 Kayapo came upon the camp in mid-October, after traveling for two days by boat and then by foot, any noise would have been drowned out anyhow by the goldminers’ hydraulic machines. Their actions resulted in the peaceful removal of the trespassers from the land, which was accessible to these outsiders only by plane, and the complete dismantling of the camp.

“The area the goldminers destroyed is very large and the streams are badly damaged,” said Bepmoro-I, from the village of Bau located in Bau Indigenous Territory. “It’s awful there. But we blocked off the airstrip and so now the streams and forest will begin to recover. If goldminers come back, we will go and remove them again.”

Kayapo wait with goldminers from the illegal “Novo Horizonte” illegal gold mine in the Kayapo Bau territory. The air strip supplied their camp and here the goldminers wait to be picked up by their employer.

This is not the first time the Kayapo have had to remove invaders from 23 million acres of their rainforest and savanna territory in the southeastern region of the Brazilian Amazon, an area the size of the state of Virginia. For more than 40 years, the Kayapo have fought off many outsiders looking to exploit their natural resources. They have done so with the partnership of multiple NGOs, including Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, and GWC partner, the International Conservation Fund of Canada.

The removal of the goldmining camp came against the backdrop of a Brazilian Federal Government that has been considering a bill this year that would effectively legalize goldmining and other extractive industries in Indigenous territories across Brazil. This marks the latest in an onslaught of threats to Brazil’s Indigenous People’s cultures, lives and land, and to the wildlife and ecosystems that they protect.

A Message to the World

The Kayapo are anything but silent against the congressional bill, Proposed Law 191/2020, that could significantly weaken protection of Amazonia, and they want the world to know what is going on.

More than 6,000 Kayapo from 56 communities of the Bau, Capoto/Jarina, Kayapo, Las Casas and Mekragnoti Indigenous Territory, the Indigenous organizations Associação Floresta Protegida, Instituto Kabu and Instituto Raoni recently published a declaration expressing their opposition to the bill.

“How could we be in favor of such an activity that profoundly negatively impacts our environment, society and communities?” the letter asks. “How could we deprive our children and grandchildren of a vital territory that supports our livelihoods, autonomy, customs and traditions, as guaranteed by the federal constitution? We appeal to all Brazilians and international society to support our struggle to protect our forest and demand that the government respect the federal constitution and our right to use our territories according to our customs; as well as the right of all people to an ecologically balanced environment.” [READ THE FULL STATEMENT FROM THE KAYAPO]

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro introduced the proposed law in February of 2020 to open up demarcated territories to the extractive industries of mining, oil and natural gas. Two other proposed laws would have similar devastating effects: one aimed at the establishment of a general environmental licensing law, which would essentially allow industry to easily obtain licenses for environmentally damaging extractive activities easily—even through self-declaration (PL3729/2004); and another that would grant amnesty to invaders and in essence encourage deforestation and land-grabbing (PL 2633/2020).

“I have long admired the great courage of the Kayapo and their undying commitment to protecting their traditional lands, ever since I first visited them in 1991 with Barbara Zimmerman to help her establish her long-running program to work with these amazing people,” said Russ Mittermeier, GWC Chief Conservation Officer, who has visited the Kayapo lands and other parts of the Xingu region a number of times over the past three decades.  “If the Brazilian government opens indigenous territories such as those of the Kayapo and their neighbors to legal goldmining and logging, this could signal a death knell for the magnificent forests of Amazonia and the great and wonderfully diverse Indigenous Peoples who call it home. The vast forests of Amazonia are critical to the health of our planet, and the Kayapo and their fellow indigenous peoples are its most important guardians.”

We Won’t Give Up’

The Kayapo protect more than 2,000 kilometers of heavily threatened borders around their territory. Kayapo land represents the last large block of forest in the southeastern Amazon and stores an estimated 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon. It is hard to understate the critical importance of the Amazon rainforest—one of the world’s five designated High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas and home to one-quarter of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity—to the health of the planet, and the critical role that the Kayapo and other Indigenous communities play in protecting it. An estimated 20 million Indigenous people from more than 350 Indigenous groups call the forests of Amazonia home and depend on their natural habitats and resources for their livelihoods and culture.

(Photo by Antonio Briceno)

Yet the forests of Amazonia continues to come under serious threats. Deforestation in 2019 and 2020 was the highest it has been since 2008 and represents a doubling in forest loss over 2012. Amazonia has experienced some of its worst fire seasons in the last two years, a result of previous deforestation, primarily for the expansion cattle ranching and cattle feed crops (soybeans), leaving a drier local microclimate. The fires themselves are often purposely started to clear land for agriculture, mostly cattle and cattle feed for export to the United States, EU, China and other countries.

“The Kayapo face today face what Native America Tribes faced in the mid-1800s: an infinitely more numerous and better armed capitalist society building along their borders and slavering to devour their land no matter the law,” said Barbara Zimmerman, director of the Kayapo Project for the International Conservation Fund of Canada and the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund. “The difference is timing: in the 21st century there exist indigenous rights, international media, the internet and NGO Indigenous allies. We are about to see whether these factors help the Kayapo to save themselves and a vast tract of Amazonia forest upon which their culture and livelihoods are based. If the Kayapo can win, if they can hold out, then I think that anything can be achieved in the conservation of our planet.”

For the Kayapo, beating these bills, which the Brazilian Congress could vote on as early as February, and continuing to protect the forests of Amazonia is going to depend on the willingness of the rest of the world to help safeguard this irreplaceable place. But no matter what, the Kayapo say that they are not going to give up.

Photo by Cristina Mittermeier

“We won’t stop doing this work. We won’t give up. We are going to keep fighting,” Bepmoro-I said. “We would like the entire world to see our effort, the work of the Kayapo people to protect our land and our culture—and help us with the resources we need to continue protecting our land and rivers.”

You can help. Make a donation to the Kayapo Fund today at

Dear Supporters of the Kayapo,

I write to update you on important Kayapo victories in 2020 made possible by your support. 

The year began with an enormous front of black clouds building on the horizon. The Bolsonaro government is: refusing to enforce indigenous and other protected areas in the Amazon; working to de-legitimize environmental and indigenous NGOs with mandates of forest protection; pushing legislation to weaken indigenous rights and open indigenous lands to industry, and; blocking bilateral and other sources of funding for environmental and indigenous NGOs working in the Amazon (eg. the Amazon Fund created by Norway).    

The situation faced by the Kayapo in 2020 is exactly that faced by the warrior tribes of the American plains in the 1800’s: vastly superior forces of a foreign capitalist power amassing to destroy them and take their land for ranching, mining and logging.  The difference is that in the 21st century, there exist human rights laws, NGOs, international media and the internet whereas the Sioux of the American plains had no outside help and were, therefore, doomed. We know the Bolsonaro government too shall pass. In the meantime, the Kayapo alliance will continue to out-manoeuvre the dark side and will never surrender.

Your donations made possible the protection of over nine million hectares (23 million acres) of officially ratified Kayapo territory through 2020, even as pressure by illegal loggers and goldminers ramped up in a region of lawlessness with no government enforcement of indigenous areas. An unexpected very bright spot in 2020 was that the Kayapo proved to be little affected by Covid 19. They rarely become ill with the virus and tell us this is because they are taking traditional medicine from the forest. Kayapo resistance to Covid meant that they were able to operate their guard post program; although opening was delayed by three months while pandemic precautions were being developed and before it became evident that Covid 19 was not serious for the Kayapo.  

The guard post program is absolutely critical to ongoing Kayapo victory. Without this border defense system Kayapo lands would quickly be overrun by illegal goldmining, logging, ranching and land speculation. Guard posts are established at vulnerable entry points along the more than 2,000 km (1,600 miles) of border that the Kayapo must defend. The mere presence of guard posts deters invasion because they signal to local frontier society that the Kayapo are organized for defense. Important as well, guard posts provide equitably distributed income for several hundred Kayapo families to be able buy necessities; especially important in a year when other programs of sustainable development were unable to function because of the pandemic.  

2020 Kayapo Project Highlights:


  1. 10 border guard posts operated from June through mid-December and no new invasions of Kayapo territory occurred


The Krimei guard post located at the Pitxaxa river on the mid-western border

kayapo guard post

The Xingu guard post controls access to 250 km of the mighty Xingu river wilderness

xingu basin
photo: John Meisner
  1. In August the northwestern Kayapo represented by their NGO Instituto Kabu (IK) (  blockaded the BR 163 highway – the main export artery for soy and other agricultural products from the south – to protest the government blocking renewal of environmental compensation that is legally due the IK. The highway blockade forced a judicial review of the Kayapo’s case. The judge ruled in favour of the Kayapo deciding their case to be justified. The IK will pursue a lawsuit until their legally mandated environmental compensation is released.  This is compensation that contributes significant support for administrative and programmatic function of the IK – and therefore, survival of the northwestern Kayapo who protect five million hectares of Kayapo territory

The northwestern Kayapo blockade the BR 163 highway at Novo Progresso, Para, in August 2020 to demand their right to environmental compensation for the deleterious impacts from this road on their land and communities 

  1. On October 17th, after two days of travel by boat and by foot through the forest, 17 Kayapo warriors surprised 40 goldminers operating illegally in the northwestern Kayapo territory of Bau. The Kayapo surrounded the goldminers, instructed them shut down their machinery and gather at their camp. The goldminers were disarmed and then made to wait on their (illegal) airstrip where small planes sent by their masters ferried them back to town. The Kayapo allowed the goldminers to take their personal possessions, but they had to leave behind all their equipment and supplies which were then burned or confiscated. Before leaving for home, the Kayapo blocked off the airstrip with trees.

Discussing the raid in Bau village

raid materials

Post raid: Kayapo display some of the equipment they confiscated from the goldminers

Your support for the Kayapo to continue to exist as Kayapo on Kayapo land is tied the survival of uncountable species of fauna and flora in one of the planet’s richest ecosystems. Kayapo land forms the last large block of forest surviving in the southeastern Amazon and therefore, is a refuge for the plant and animal species of the region.

pedro peloso
photo: pedro peloso
Kayapo Leaders



Territorial Monitoring and control

The objective of this program is to maintain the ecological and cultural integrity of Kayapo lands by preventing invasion and predatory exploitation by illegal goldminers, loggers, fishermen and ranchers. Program components are:

    • Remote sensing/satellite image analysis
    • Border guard posts located at key access points and manned by Kayapo guards
    • Kayapo border patrol expeditions 
    • Overflight surveillance to detect incursions and ground-truth remote sensing data 
    • Training workshops for Kayapo youth


sustainable enterprise 

The Kayapo NGOs work to develop sustainable economic enterprises for their communities that generate equitably distributed income, fit with Kayapo culture and conserve the primary forest ecosystem upon which Kayapo society depends. Sustainable enterprises include:



institution building

The three Kayapo NGOs are Kayapo outposts in a foreign world. They are poles of function in outside society such that the Kayapo are able to obtain, administer and effectively implement support for their cause as well as organize to defend their rights. Their NGOs set a place at the table for the Kayapo in national society -without which they would have been trampled by frontier society long ago.