Expert killed after being shot with hail of arrows near indigenous Amazon tribe

Expert killed after being shot with hail of arrows near indigenous Amazon tribe

A leading expert on isolated Amazon tribes has died after being shot with arrows while visiting an indigenous group.

Rieli Franciscato, 56, a Brazilian who worked for a government agency to protect indigenous tribes from threats like deforestation and mining, died on Wednesday in a remote part of Rondonia state in the north-west of Brazil.

He came under fire as he approached an indigenous group, witnesses said. He tried to take shelter from the volley of arrows behind a vehicle but was struck in the chest.

In an audio recording on social media, a police officer accompanying Mr Franciscato said: “He cried out, pulled the arrow from his chest, ran 50m (164ft) and collapsed, lifeless,” .

Photographer Gabriel Uchida, who also witnessed the incident, told the AFP news agency that Mr Franciscato was observing a tribe called the “Cautario River isolated group”.

Mr Uchida said the tribe was usually “a peaceful group”, but “this time, there were just five armed men – a war party”.

Brazilian indigenous tribes say their lands have come under renewed threat from deforestation and mining since Jair Bolsonaro became president in 2019.

Funai, the government agency Mr Franciscato worked for, has had its funding cut severely in recent years.

Ricardo Lopes Dias, a spokesperson for Funai, said: “Rieli dedicated his life to the indigenous cause. He had more than three decades of service, and leaves an immense legacy for the protection of these peoples.”

Indigenous rights group Survival say there are about 100 isolated tribes left in the Amazon.

Survival senior researcher Sarah Shenker paid tribute to Mr Franciscato.

She said: “For decades he refused to accept the violent greed destroying the Amazon rainforest and its best guardians. He worked tirelessly to protect the lands of uncontacted tribes from outsiders.

“He dedicated his life to it, working on the front line to combat the illegal invasions by loggers, ranchers and miners who threaten to wipe out the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. He didn’t let Bolsonaro’s war on indigenous peoples and strangling of his budget stop him.

“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.”