The Kayapo

Unparalleled Wilderness Conservation Opportunity in the Amazon

As the agricultural frontier advances in the lawless Xingu region of southeastern Amazon of Brazil, Kayapo lands are undergoing transformation into a huge island of forest within a sea of deforestation. Kayapo indigenous territories are officially ratified and protected under law, but in this region of weak governance and violent land conflict, indigenous peoples find themselves largely on their own to defend their land and rights. How do relatively few Kayapo protect an area larger than many small countries from the chainsaws and fires that are consuming the forests of the region?

Kayapo territories span 10.5 million hectares and form possibly the largest single protected tract of tropical forest in the world. The protection of these traditional lands can be traced to an historically warrior culture of the Kayapo, strong leaders and well-developed communal society predicated upon ceremony and symbolism.

The Kayapo today defend 2,000 km of border against encroachment and invasion by ranching, logging, gold-mining and land fraud. They actively contest their land rights because their livelihoods depend upon it. Conservation groups, such as The WILD Foundation, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund and the International Conservation Fund of Canada, support the Kayapo to continue to protect this landscape of immense ecological and cultural significance.

Our NGOs work with the Kayapo to strengthen their capacity for territorial protection and sustainable resource management. This support includes:

  • Providing transportation and communications infrastructure, fuel and other supplies to facilitate border surveillance by Kayapo;
  • Capacity-building training courses for Kayapo youth in territorial patrol techniques;
    NASA image shows block of Kayapo territories in dark green, surrounded by plumes of smoke rising from burning forest.
  • Systematic remote (satellite imagery and GIS analysis) and over-flight monitoring of the border;
  • Supporting the survival of traditional Kayapo political institutions by providing means for Kayapo leaders to meet and reinforce traditional intercommunal bonds and political organization that leads to consensus on territorial protection strategy;
  • Achieving economic autonomy based on sustainable management of non-timber forest resources; and,
  • Building capacity of local institutions (Kayapo NGO’s) that are necessary for accessing and managing outside support for conservation and development.

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* The Kayapo project is a Collaborative Conservation Project (CCP) of The WILD Foundation