Illegal deforestation destroys Ayoreo hunting grounds

June 27, 2007

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A Paraguayan rancher illegally occupying part of the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode Indians' ancestral territory has destroyed key hunting grounds.

A group of Indians were on a hunting expedition, searching for the large tortoises that form a key part of their diet in the dry season, when they saw two bulldozers clearing the forest.

The deforestation occurred in the Totobiegosode's heartland, which they have been trying to recover since 1993. The area is protected by injunctions which prohibit any clearances until the Indians' land claim is resolved.

In a brief confrontation, the Indians attempted to stop the bulldozers from operating, but Cesar Sosa, the rancher, threatened to have them arrested.

The Totobiegosode immediately informed GAT, a Paraguayan NGO that has been working with them to protect their land since 1993. The following week representatives of the police, the Environment Ministry, the Attorney-General's office and the Forestry Department, accompanied by Totobiegosode leaders and observers from GAT and Survival, travelled to Sr. Sosa's ranch and impounded the bulldozers.

Under Paraguayan law Sr. Sosa, being over 70 years of age, is immune from prosecution, but the bulldozers' owner, a powerful local businessman, faces a substantial fine.

The Totobiegosode leaders hope that the authorities' action will deter other ranchers from clearing their forest. Several of them, however, have succeeded in getting the injunctions lifted on their ranches, and the whole area being claimed by the Totobiegosode is under severe pressure of deforestation. Many of the Indians' relatives still live uncontacted in the forest.