WW2155193 - A WWF-Brazil team flew over the southern region of Pará and northern Mato Grosso between the cities of Itaituba, Novo Progresso, São Félix do Xingu and Guarantã do Norte. In a period of three hours 18 smoke spots were observed. September 2019, Brazil. © Araquém Alcântara;




The future of the Amazon rainforest, plus the people and nature who call it home, hangs in the balance and its fate rests in the hands of each and every one of us

written by: Jake Kendall-Ashton
Photography provided by: 
Andre Dib | Araquém Alcântara | Jacqueline Lisboa | Luis Barreto | Marizilda Cruppe | Mboakara Uru-eu-wau-wau / Kanindé  | WWF-Brazil

For millennia the Amazon rainforest, has supported the world with the ultimate ecological service: by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing water vapour and oxygen in return, the Amazon and its estimated 400 million trees have played a crucial role in stabilising the global climate and sustaining life on Earth.

But now the Amazon – on fire, under siege and on the brink of collapse – needs our help.

In 2019 man-made, deliberately set fires caused destruction in the Amazon on an unprecedented level. That was until the following year when, inconceivably, the infernos were more severe still. And now, exacerbated by drought, scientists fear 2021 could be even worse.  

For a place that’s home to 10% of the world’s known species, as well as 34 million people including three million Indigenous People, the devastation is incomprehensible.

And if we lose the Amazon, we lose our fight against climate change...

Assunto: Incêndio florestal provocado - Floresta amazônica - Estação Ecológica do Cuniã
© Andre Dib

To date, more than 17% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed - an area the size of France

Some scientists warn losing just 5% more of the Amazon could push the rainforest beyond an irreversible tipping point

Aerial view of triggered forest fire  on September 2020, in the Amazon Rainforest, Vilhena- Rondonia state.  © Andre Dib / WWF-Brazil
Illegal deforestation found in the indigenous Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory. This area of deforestation was discovered on December 15th 2019 during the first surveillance made by the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau after the drone course funded by WWF's Amazon Emergency Appeal.  © Marizilda Cruppe

If action is not taken now, 40% of the Amazon rainforest will be gone by 2050

A beautiful biome

in the balance

Waterfall, La Lindosa, near San José del Guaviare, Guaviare Department, Colombia. ©Luis Barreto

With every tree and every acre of the Amazon that is cut down, burned and destroyed, the rainforest is pushed closer to the brink of a precipice.  To date, almost one fifth of the Amazon’s original forest cover has been razed. That equates to an area similar in size to France. And shockingly, some scientists estimate that if we lose just another 5%, the Amazon may go beyond an irreversible tipping point beyond which the rainforest will no longer be able to sustain itself.

Much of the once densely forested Amazon, could become a dry and degraded ecosystem. And not only will we lose the Amazon as we know it, but its tragic destruction also risks triggering catastrophic climate change across the globe that will affect us all.

Awapy Uru Eu Wau Wau and his wife Juwi Uru Eu Wau Wau are photographed at Kanindé Ethno-Environmental Defense Association in the surroundings of Porto Velho, Rondônia State, Brazil.© Marizilda Cruppe

But there is hope.
There is always hope.

And that reason for optimism lies in Indigenous Peoples, the vital custodians of the Amazon who are at the forefront of protecting and preserving it.
With their longstanding, deep-rooted traditions and invaluable knowledge of their forest home, Indigenous Peoples hold the key to safeguarding the Amazon and its nature for future generations.

But Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon are currently facing huge challenges, including land grabbing, illegal mining, deforestation and, more recently, Covid-19. All this is happening amid the backdrop of a combative Brazilian government, which, since it took power in 2019, has overseen immense destruction in the Amazon and authorised unprovoked aggression towards Indigenous Peoples.

In August 2021, the so-called 'land grab' bill was passed by Brazil's lower house of Congress. Critics argue this new law would provide amnesty for illicit invasions of public lands and could pave the way for increased destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
That’s why WWF is collaborating with local partners and organisations to support the rights of the communities and Indigenous Peoples who call the Amazon home.

Read their stories..


Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, the president of the Uru Eu Wau Wau Idigenous People's Association, photographed at Aldeia Jamari, in the Uru Eu Wau Wau territory, Rondônia, Brazil.©Marizilda Cruppe


WWF helps connect Indigenous communities to the internet so they can better thwart land grabbers

In the heart of Brazil, on the eastern perimeter of the Amazon rainforest, lies Krenhyedjá village in the Kayapó Indigenous Land. The Indigenous people who live there reside in wooden buildings with palm-thatched roofs and rely on the forest and the river for food, medicine and sustenance.

Given its wild and remote setting, this is perhaps the last place on earth you might expect to have access to the modern wonder of the internet.

Yet, that is exactly what WWF has recently helped the people of Krenhyedjá, and other Indigenous and riverside communities, to achieve.

In partnership with the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), WWF-Brazil has supported the installation of 12 internet points for Indigenous and traditional communities in the Amazon’s Xingu River Basin. This has directly benefitted eight Indigenous groups, comprising hundreds of people.

A mist covers the Aldeia Jamari in the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau indigenous land, Rondônia. © Marizilda Cruppe

Far from a luxury provision, the installation of satellite dishes in Krenhyedjá has offered the potential to save lives and better protect the Indigenous territory against environmental crimes.

The Kayapó Indigenous Land, like so many of the Amazon’s Indigenous territories, is under siege. Its people face a constant and increasing threat of invasion and violent conflict from illegal gold miners and loggers.

Previously, the people of Krenhyedjá could only respond to such threats by alerting Funai – Brazil’s governmental agency responsible for protecting Indigenous people – via radio. Radio, however, is slow and unreliable and only allows for short communications with no possibility of detailing the situation with photos or video.

O-é Paiakan Kayapó, an Indigenous woman and chief of Krenhyedjá village, says that connection to the internet has already prevented one invasion by illegal miners.

Soybean plantation (green on left) along the BR-364 highway outside of a protected area near the Jamari River, Rondônia.  © Marizilda Cruppe

In January 2021, a group of prospective miners approached their village and the community could hear the threatening noises of nearby engines and airplanes. The villagers were able to make immediate contact with Funai using the internet, and just a few days later the agency managed to locate and confront the invaders and ordered them to leave.  

Relieved by the quick response, O-é said: “It was very important to communicate the danger quickly, because the source of our river is near the village and we were very concerned about possible contamination [from the mining activities].

"In the rainy season, the radio only works in the afternoon because communication is impossible when it rains in the mornings. Furthermore, the radios are powered by solar panels, which gets very complicated, and at night they just don't work. That is why the internet is so important."

As well as thwarting land invasions, the internet has also been critical in the village community learning more about Covid-19 and how to best protect themselves against the virus. O-é added: “During the pandemic, access to the internet was very important for the villages to have correct information, from official sources, without the influence of fake news.

“This is saving lives."

Illegal deforestation found in the indigenous Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory. This area of deforestation was discovered on December 15th 2019 during the first surveillance made by the Uru-eu-wau-wau after the drone course funded by WWF's Amazon Emergency Appeal. © Marizilda Cruppe

Sky surveillance: Drones donated by WWF help Indigenous Peoples monitor and protect their land

Since December 2019, WWF has donated 20 drones to 18 local authorities and Indigenous groups in the Amazon, including the Uru eu-wau-wau, to support them in detecting environmental crime. In partnership with Kanindé Ethno-Environmental Defense Association, these groups were also provided with drone pilot training to support their monitoring and protection of their lands.

Using the drones allows Indigenous Peoples to monitor vast swathes of protected forest areas – that would otherwise be difficult or hugely time-consuming to traverse and patrol on foot – for signs of invasion, deforestation and land grabbing.  The technology makes it possible to map, film and photograph areas under threat and pass on accurate information to police and prosecutors to stop illegal destruction of the rainforest.  

Land monitoring can also be done remotely, which means safely as Indigenous Peoples can avoid potentially violent conflicts with land grabbers, mining prospectors and loggers.

A WWF-Brazil team flew over the southern region of Pará and northern Mato Grosso between the cities of Itaituba, Novo Progresso, São Félix do Xingu and Guarantã do Norte. In a period of three hours 18 smoke spots were observed. September 2019, Brazil. © Araquém Alcântara

On sending a drone into the sky for the first time after their piloting course, the Uru-eu-wau-wau were shocked and saddened to discover a 1.4-hectare deforested area in their territory that was previously unknown to them. Five days later, they again used a drone to record evidence of a helicopter dispersing grass seeds on the deforested plot, indicating the invaders’ intention to convert the area to pasture for cattle.

Bitaté Uru-eu-wau-wau said:

“The technology today, for territorial monitoring, is very worthwhile. Without a drone, that deforestation — which was already advanced — would still be unknown to us."

Although the Uru-eu-wau-wau could not prevent the destruction of rainforest on that occasion, they are hopeful the drone technology will allow them to better report and foil future deforestation.

WWF providing drone training to communities. Flying the drone is Ismael Menezes Brandão (Siã Shanenawa) from Comissão Pró-Índio (CPI). Porto Velho, Rondônia, Brazil. © Marizilda Cruppe

WWF would like to thank the Kanindé Ethno-Environmental Defense Association and the Association of the Indigenous People Uru-eu-wau-wau. Without these partners, this work would not have been possible.

This work was carried out with the consent and collaboration of the indigenous people and Fundação Nacional do Índio-FUNAI.


We’ve reduced deforestation in the Amazon before, and with united action and global support we can do it again. In the early 2000s, Brazil made huge progress in protecting the Amazon rainforest – reducing deforestation by 82% between 2003 and 2012.  

There’s still time to protect the Amazon and save our one shared home.  

Join us and #ActForTheAmazon