Expert killed after being shot with hail of arrows by uncontacted Brazil tribe during mission to protect them

A RENOWNED expert who fought tirelessly to save indigenous people has been slain by an uncontacted tribe he was trying to save.

Rieli Franciscato, 56, was killed yesterday in Rondonia state after he was shot in the heart by an arrow as he defended territory belonging to the Uru Eu Wau Wau tribe.

It is thought the tribesmen, who have rarely come into contact with outsiders, may have assumed he was one of many invaders devastating the forest around them. 

Most of the forest surrounding the reserve has been destroyed and occupied by ranchers and loggers, who are also targeting the reserve itself.

Last year numerous fires were started outside and inside the reserve, and this year the ranchers have threatened to burn more of the territory.

Mr Franciscato has a reputation as one of the most devoted “sertanistas” which are Brazilian government agents who work in the forests to protect uncontacted tribes' lands from outsiders.

Sarah Shenker, from tribe conservation charity Survival International, said: "The uncontacted Indians may well have mistaken Rieli, one of their closest allies, for one of their many enemies who threaten their survival. 

"They've been pushed to the edge  and there’s only one solution: protect their territory from all invasions so they can survive and thrive."

Mr Reili was a fierce opponent of Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro who has refused to stop hacking down trees for trade. 

The far-right champion of tree felling and a climate change sceptic, has said he wouldn't give up "one centimetre more" of land to indigenous communities.

The uncontacted Indians may well have mistaken Rieli, one of their closest allies, for one of their many enemies who threaten their survival

Ms Shenker said: "The last thing Rieli would want is for the government and the invaders to use his death as an excuse to target the Uru Eu Wau Wau territory even more aggressively, or to make forced contact with the uncontacted Indians. 

"This would be fatal and any attempts will be met with immediate opposition from indigenous peoples and their allies around the world.

"He didn't let Bolsonaro’s war on indigenous peoples and strangling of his budget stop him.

"Rieli’s death is a tragic and immeasurable loss for uncontacted tribes, for the forest, and for the fight to stop Brazil’s genocide. 

"For decades he refused to accept the violent greed destroying the Amazon rainforest and its best guardians."

The uncontacted tribes live in extreme isolation in the forest and are rarely filmed.

Over the years their fear of the encroaching world has led to them to develop a fear of contact with outsiders.

They often fire their bows and arrows at helicopters or planes that make contact with them.

There are at least 100 uncontacted tribes living in Brazil alone, experts believe, numbering as many as 3000 individuals.

Other groups of uncontacted tribes also can be found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and northern Paraguay.

As well as loggers and cattle ranchers, the tribes are threatened by Crhistian missionaries bent on converting them. 

Any contact risks giving the isolated communities diseases.

Last year Steve Campbell, from Maine in the US, was questioned by Brazilian officials after entering the isolated territory of the mysterious Hi Merima tribe.

He is said to have used a local guide to track down the tribe – which has repelled past efforts from the outside world to make contact – in a quest to spread Christianity.

Campbell is a missionary with the Greene Baptist Church in Maine – which is known to carry out missionary work in the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

Officials from FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Department, said his actions violated the rights of the tribespeople – and could lead to their death.

A statement from FUNAI said: “It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to an isolated indigenous population.

“Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”

In 2018 an American missionary called John Allen Chau, 26, was killed by an arrow by the protected Sentinelese tribe during his quest to convert North Sentinel islanders to Christianity.

The Sentinelese have been known to attack anyone who goes to the island, seeing them as a threat.

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