Advocates for tribal people in Peru published new photos this week that show a troubling scene: an apparent missionary and other outsiders in a tourist boat idling along the bank of a river to give clothes and other gifts to children from an isolated indigenous tribe.
Though their actions might seem benign, outsiders can easily transmit diseases to so-called "uncontacted" tribes — such as the Mashco-Piro people in these photos, who have long lived in voluntary isolation in Peru's Madre de Dios region.
"We've been trying to prevent this exact situation from happening," said Rebecca Spooner, a Peru campaigner for Survival International, which advocates for tribal people's rights.
Earlier this month, Spooner told Live Science that her organization had been receiving more and more emails from tourists who had encounters with Mashco-Piro people during a trip to the Amazon. At the same time, representatives from FENAMAD in Peru issued a statement calling for a ban on tourists filming and photographing people from the tribe and leaving items such as clothing on the riverbanks. (FENAMAD stands for Native Federation of the Madre de Dios River and Tributaries.)
Now, FENAMAD has shared images of people handing over items to the Mashco-Piro on the border with Peru's Manu National Park on Sept. 6.
Even if the Mashco-Piro are beckoning tourists and accepting gifts, it doesn't mean they are trying to initiate permanent contact, Spooner explained. She added that it doesn't seem as if the tribespeople are abandoning their way of life, and they don't seem to be crying for help.
"We would never try to stop uncontacted indigenous people from trying to make contact," Spooner said. "But it's important to give them time and space for when they want to make contact."
Survival International and FENAMAD have called on the Peruvian government to boost the presence of authorities and better equip guard posts in the region. They have also urged the government to expand the Madre de Dios Reserve and develop a contingency plan in cases of contact.