Category Archives: Environment

5,800-year-old tree (the Amazon’s oldest) cut down by illegal loggers trespassing on protected tribal land

A 5,800-year-old tree has been cut down by loggers illegally encroaching into the Matsés Indigenous Reserve, an area where logging is illegal but potentially holds huge reserves of oil and gas below ground.

Amazon's oldest tree chopped down by loggers

The logging firms claim it was an accident and they didn’t realise either where they were or how old the tree was. The giant Samauma tree is over 5,800 years old and 40 meters high.

The Matsés tribe called it “The Mother Tree”, so long has it been a fixture in the lives of them and their ancestors. No punishment has been given to the logging company involved, suggesting the local authorities may not be on nature’s side or that of the native people.

Within 20 years the speed at which the rainforest is being cut down in the Amazon has more than tripled, at 100 acres destroyed every minute, with most of the lost forest becoming pasture for cattle or to grow soy.

Protecting nature’s always pretty down the list in terms of priorities when war and famine are rife around the world, but this is still probably one of the ugliest man-made issues we’re committing on earth right now, and it’s one that could be solved fairly easily with the right controls and guidance.

Remember, the Amazon is the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists, which shows how vicious, lawless and powerful the logging firms are around there.

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“We are fighting for our land, and we are being killed, one by one.” Eliseu Lopes, tribe leader in Brazil

Guarani are an indigenous people that live across Argentina, Bolivia and southwestern Brazil. When Europeans first arrived in South America in 1500 the Guarani numbered around 400,000. At that time, they were living in small communities and grew manioc, maize, wild game, and honey.

Cue a few hundred years and their leaders are being murdered by ranchers in a land dispute that should have ended in 1993.

Earlier this month, 27-year-old Guarani leader Marinalva Manoel was raped and stabbed to death after traveling 1,000km to Brasília to lobby the government to recognize Guarani land rights.

NGO Survival International has evidence Guarani-tribe leaders are being murdered by gunmen hired by ranchers eager to quash a land dispute in the rancher’s favour. Ranchers use Guarani land to grow sugar cane, soya and cattle. Profits are huge and ranchers are actively protected by local police and politicians, leaving the Guarani at their mercy.

Guarani leaders are singled out, attacked and killed by ranchers’ gunmen as a result of their campaign for their ancestral land to be mapped out and returned to them. Many leaders have received death threats. According to Brazil’s constitution, all the tribe’s land should have been returned to them by 1993.

Forced to live in overcrowded reserves and roadside camps while ranchers earn huge profits on their land, the Guarani suffer alarming rates of malnutrition, suicide and violence. A recent wave of eviction orders threatens to further worsen their horrific plight.

Despite many promises, successive governments have failed to resolve Brazil’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Survival International is asking anyone interested in protecting the rights of indigenous people to write to the Brazilian government and force them to sort the issue out in the Guarani’s favour.

Or send an email to President Dilma Rousseff at sg@planalto.gov.br

Something like:

Dear Dilma,

I am deeply concerned successive governments have failed to map out the lands of the Guarani tribe of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Without their ancestral land, the Guarani cannot survive. Their leaders are being killed one by one, their children are dying of malnutrition and they suffer one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The worldwide community is sickened by your failure to protect your people.

Please uphold the constitution and demarcate the Guarani’s lands immediately, before more lives are lost.

Sincerely,

If you’re coming to see England in Belo Horizonte, make sure you visit the nearby Inhotim Art Gallery

If you only do one thing during your visit to the 2014 Brazil World Cup in Belo Horizonte, visit Inhotim Art Gallery.

Fruit of the Palmeira-barriguda tree.
Fruit of the Palmeira-barriguda tree.

It’s about a two-hour drive out of the city (it’s only 70km away but traffic takes care of the rest) but it’s definitely worth it. The art gallery/botanical gardens is built within the huge grounds of the former English mining magnate Senor Tim (pronounced “In-yo-cheem” in old Brazilian, hence the name).

The surrounding mountains around Inhotim.
The surrounding mountains around Inhotim.

Dotted around Inhotim are modern art installations of glass, mirror, water, brick and sound buried deep in lush Brazilian forest. It’s a really beautiful place to walk around on a sunny day.

Multi-coloured walls in Inhotim by Helio Oiticica

This huge tree-hugger truck sits forever tipping over in a glass dome structure in the middle of the jungle.

Brazilian tree-hugger truck  tipping over inside a glass dome at Inhotim, Minas Gerais

Paths lead through thousands of different types of flowers and trees as you look for each of the hidden installations.

A tree held up by four others.
A tree held up by four others.

The art installations are really, really cool. Photography inside the galleries is banned but I managed to snap the Cildo Meireles installation below.

Looks like the moon's surface.
Looks like the moon’s surface.

Another installation has you walking across broken glass (you’re wearing shoes).

The Dr. Seuss-style Paxiuba tree, which looks as if it's dancing on its roots.
The Dr. Seuss-style Paxiuba tree, which looks as if it’s dancing on its roots.

A spectacular sound installation called The Murder of Crows has you sat facing fifty different speakers in a dark warehouse as a girl recounts a dream beginning in the warehouse and moving through jungle to a beach.

There are 5,000 types of flowers at Inhotim, including this blue tiger-print flower.
There are 5,000 types of flowers at Inhotim, including this one with blue tiger-print petals.

Another has you in a pitch-black room as a strobe-light illuminates a fountain, making the water look like molten glass.  In another you enter a room with a mirror, but you can’t see your reflection. You can literally step through the mirror, as crazy as that sounds.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s a really cool place.

A few tips: wear a good pair of walking shoes, tickets are 30 reais to enter and the best place to eat is the Oiticica self-service restaurant (where they weigh your plate; it’ll cost about 40 reais for a really nice meal and a drink).

Incredible view over the city of Belo Horizonte from the hills of Mirante, Mangabeiras

Praça do Papa in Belo Horizonte is a great, FREE place to visit and look out across the city if you’re here for the 2014 World Cup. It was once visited by the big man himself, hence the name.

View of the city of Belo Horizonte from Mirante, Mangabeiras through an abandoned gate
View of the city from Mirante, Mangabeiras through an abandoned gate.

It’s an incredible view and if you bring a bottle of wine or some beers you can spend a few hours there and watch the sun-set.

Even higher up in the mountains surrounding BH is Mirante, in the Mangabeiras neighborhood, with an even better view of the city. Both free and accessible by car or walking. The view will blow your mind, it’s like looking at a city made out of lego.

Daytime view of Mirante, Mangabeiras in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

Look them both up on Google Maps and take a bus over there. If you like hiking you’ll love the hills.

Incredible view in Mirante, Mangabeiras of Belo Horizonte, Brazil

12,000-year-old human graffiti on the walls of a cave in Montalvânia, northern Minas Gerais

Lagoa Santa in Central Brazil is the only site in the entire American continent where bodies of the earliest modern humans have been found.Luzia, found in Lagoa Santa, Brazil in 1830

The bodies date back to the earliest days of the Holocene period,
which began about 12,000 years ago with a global rise in sea-levels of about 60m.

The most famous body is that of Luiza, a young woman perfectly-preserved from the day she passed away in a cave and looking very much like a modern human.

Graffiti by early humans of the Holocene period in Minas Gerais, Brazil

The Holocene period encapsulates the period of the “modern human”, and continues with us up to this day. It’s incredible these early humans, who will have crossed into the continent from Russia, have been found only once across the entire continent, and all the way south in the cave systems of central Brazil.

In a tiny town in northern Minas Gerais called Montalvânia their early cave-paintings have also been found.

Graffiti by early humans of the Holocene period in Minas Gerais, Brazil

A lot of it is stick-men, including the man in the image above who has five sets of arms. A few of the drawings look like rocket-ships and planes, which sets the imagination alight about what was going through these early human’s minds.

Graffiti by early humans of the Holocene period in Minas Gerais, BrazilThe cave-drawings can be seen in Belo Horizonte’s Espaco do Conhecimento and the caves of the American continent’s earliest humans can be explored in Lagoa Santa.

Beware, though: the cave is full of spiders. Two of them are the “deadliest spiders in Brazil”, according to the tour guide. As he was describing the spiders he pointed to my foot and said: “There’s one.” Brazil’s deadliest spider was on my flip-flop!

I kicked it off and we moved along.

Well worth a visit!

Interview with Brazil’s “Chainsaw Queen” politician, who wants to loosen laws to chop down more trees in Brazil

Brazilian politician Kátia Abreu leads agricultural lobbying in loosening controls on Amazon deforestation. She wants to make Brazil a powerhouse in the exportation of soy products, a plan which will require deforestation to take place, unless it can be carefully controlled in areas like Minas Gerais’ Triângulo Mineiro.

Here are the highlights from her interview with The Guardian about a country in which more environmental activists are murdered than anywhere else in the world.

Running for president is not a plan – it is fate. Criticism from radical environmentalists is the best form of endorsement. It gives me satisfaction. It shows I am on the right track and playing the right role.”

“We have all the essential elements: abundant water, advanced technology and plenty of land for production. Based on this, we can become number one without cutting down trees.”

She alleges environmentalists, indigenous groups and landless peasants are working for foreign interests. “I don’t have concrete proof of this but I get a very strong impression that this is the case.”

“Forty years ago, the average Brazilian spent 50% of his or her income on food. Now the proportion is about 18%.”

“For many years, environmentalism reached an extreme pitch and we in the agribusiness sector were treated like criminals. Now, our agribusiness sector can influence the choice of kings and queens in Brazil. In the past, we only exercised economic influence. Now we also have political power.”

Most chillingly, Abreu said:

“We cannot rest on our laurels. There are many things holding back progress – the environmental issue, the Indian issue and more. But even with these problems we keep producing high levels of productivity. Imagine how high it might be without those obstacles.”