Illegal gold mining activity has risen sharply over the last five years in Brazil’s indigenous Yanomami reservation in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, a Reuters review of exclusive data from satellite images shows.
The Yanomami are the largest of South America’s tribes that remain relatively isolated from the outside world. More than 26,700 people live within a protected reservation the size of Portugal, near the Venezuelan border.
However, the land beneath the pristine forest they have inhabited for centuries contains valuable minerals – including gold.
The lust for gold has attracted wildcat prospectors in recent decades, who have destroyed forests, poisoned rivers and brought fatal diseases to the tribe.
Today, the Yanomami and local officials estimate there are more than 20,000 illegal miners on their land. They say the numbers have increased since the 2018 election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to develop the Amazon economically and tap its mineral riches.