UK museum urged to stay out of isolated Latam area

Wed Nov 10, 2010 5:38am EST
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By Anna Yukhananov

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Campaigners have urged London's Natural History Museum to halt a botanical research expedition to a remote area in Paraguay, warning it would be "like genocide" for isolated indigenous groups in the region.

Museum staff and scientists from Paraguay are due to set off this week, hoping to find new species in the little-explored forests of the Dry Chaco.

But indigenous peoples' protection groups say the expedition could run into natives who live in the territory, disturbing their way of life and infecting them with potentially fatal diseases.

Benno Glauser, director of the Paraguay-based protection group Iniciativa Amotocodie, wrote to the museum, saying its month-long trip would intrude into the territory of Ayoreo Indians who have never had contact with the outside world.

He included a statement from Ayoreo leaders who live in a town in northern Paraguay. It said: "if this expedition goes ahead we will not be able to understand why you prefer to lose human lives just because the English scientists want to study plants and animals."

"There is too much risk: the people in the forest die frequently from catching white people's diseases. It's very serious. It's like a genocide."

Glauser said there was also danger to researchers as indigenous groups could view them as hostile intruders and attack them.

The museum says it has taken all possible precautions to avoid accidental contact with the Ayoreo groups, and plans to go ahead with the trip.   Continued...

<p>A woman walks past the cocoon in the new Darwin Centre at the Natural History, Museum in London September 8, 2009. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth</p>