Away Uru Eu Wau Wau grew up deep inside the Amazon rainforest.
The 28-year-old belongs to a 250-strong tribe called the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau. The community — which remained in isolation from the surface world until the 1980s — lives during a legally protected area of rainforest spanning 7,000 square miles within the state of Rondonia, in western Brazil. They depend upon the forest for growing and gathering food, hunting, fishing, and medicine.
But the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau’s home and their way of life are under threat because the Amazon is burning.
These fires aren’t present. Most are started illegally, to clear vegetation for illicit crop farming and cattle ranching.
Last year’s fires were devastating to the region and this year has seen a continued rise in fires, despite a government ban that started in mid-July.
“Nature is everything to us,” says Away. “It is our life, our lungs, our hearts. we do not want to ascertain the jungle chopped down. If you chop it all down, it’ll definitely be hotter, and there won’t be a river, or hunting, or pure air for us.”
That’s why Away and representatives from five other indigenous communities took part during a drone-operating training course travel by the planet Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Brazilian NGO, the Kaninde Ethno-Environmental Defense Association, last December.
According to Felipe Spina Avino, senior conservation analyst for WWF-Brazil, who helped run the training, the group became hooked the primary time they flew the drones and were ready to see the forest from above. “They really accepted the technology with open arms and pretty quickly began to use it,” he says.
The drones create high-resolution images, video, and GPS mapping data which may be used as evidence when reporting illegal activities to the authorities. Traversing dense jungle is tough on foot and therefore the drones enable indigenous communities to watch away wider area while avoiding potentially dangerous confrontations with illegal loggers and land-grabbers, says Spina Avino.
The WWF-Kaninde project has donated 19 drones to 18 organizations involved in forest protection within the Amazon.
Spina Avino says the technology empowers indigenous people. “They can compile a case with tons of evidence that they will send to the authorities which they have much greater pressure and far greater resource to influence the illegal activities that are happening,” he says.
Away leads a team of 12 on patrols into the rainforest to watch deforestation and forest fires.
The first time the team used a drone, they found a 1.4 hectare area of land (roughly the dimensions of two American football fields) that had been cleared of trees. Days later, they captured video of a helicopter spreading grass seed on the plot — indicating that the land would be used for cattle pasture, says WWF.
WWF reports that the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) — the Brazilian government body liable for managing policies concerning indigenous people — has been ready to use geographical coordinates provided by the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau to research illegal logging within the region.