The Ka'apor case: Illegal logging inside Indigenous Land threatens the Amazon forest and its people

Greenpeace has extensively documented and exposed illegal logging in the Amazon, which continues unabated. In May 2014, the "The Amazon silent crisis" report revealed the outcome of a 2-year investigation into the Brazilian Amazon timber sector, demonstrating widespread illegalities and manipulation of the system to launder illegal timber with legal paperwork. This timber is then sold all over the world including in the USA, Israel and throughout Europe. Existing laws are not respected and enforced, both in Brazil and in export markets.

Illegal and predatory logging is threatening Indigenous lands and other protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon. Data released by the Brazilian government last year shows that 30% offorest degradation in the Amazon happened inside protected areas. The most striking fact is that 84% of thisdegradation happens inside indigenous lands.

The Ka’apor Indigenous land, in the northern state of Maranhão, is a stark example of what it means to be on the frontlines of destruction. Located between the Turiaçu and Gurupi rivers, the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Land, from the Ka'apor people, covers an area of 530,000 hectares, equivalent to six times the size of the city of Berlin. Together with four other protected areas it holds the last remaining natural forest in the Amazon state of Maranhão. Formerly recognized in 1982, the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Land has been the target of illegal encroachment activity by land grabbers, farmers and logging companies for the last 25 years. Around 8% of its area has already been deforested—converted into pasture land, fields of rice and towns, according to analysis of satellite imagery by Greenpeace[1]. This situation is even more worrisome given the data from the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe): a little over half of what is left of the Amazon forest in Maranhão now lies within the boundaries of indigenous lands.

The pressure exerted by the logging sector over the Ka’apor land is easy to understand. Illegal loggers open roads and move into the forest in search of high-value tree species, such as Ipê, which can reach high values in the international markets. In addition to threatening the biodiversity and aggravating violent conflicts with local populations, the main consequence of smuggling wood out of protected areas is the degradation of the forest, which is the first step towards deforestation.

Tired of waiting for a solution from the government and relevant local authorities, the Ka’apor people have started taking the matter on their own hands. Since 2013, the Ka'apor indigenous leaders have coordinated efforts to keep watch over the indigenous land that they still control to prevent deforestation and the opening of new logging roads. During the territorial surveillance and protection activities that the Ka'apor perform in their land, weapons, chainsaws, motorcycles, trucks and tractors are seized and timber already cut by the loggers is destroyed. Roads and paths opened by the loggers and hunters are permanently occupied by the Ka’apor with new villages or protection areas. In all, 18 villages have already been built on indigenous land, eight of them in the last two years as a result of this process.

But these actions don’t come cheap since the Ka’apor became targets of growing violence in their land with one leader recently killed in April and others threatened since then. As recent as end of July, two members of the community suffered assassination attempts.

Lack of government support and action against illegal logging as well as episodes of violence against Ka’apor leaders renders the official protected status of Indigenous Lands in Brazil empty and meaningless. Without the forests people, such as the Ka’apor, the Amazon would have been long gone. They are the guardians of the forest, yet their rights are violated on an almost constant basis by short-sighted commercial interests. Protected areas such as Alto Turiaçu make a significant difference for the conservation of the Amazon and are one of the most efficient tools to mitigate the effects of global warming, as already shown in the paper “Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change” by the World Resources Institute. This is clear from deforestationmaps which show that in the state of Maranhão, only protected areas remain (see the green colour on the map).

In September, Greenpeace will join forces with the Ka’apor to help protect their land from illegal logging. Using technology, we will help them set-up an autonomous monitoring and vigilance system for the Ka'apor land and illegal activities happening inside their areas.


  • a briefing on the Ka'apor Indigenous people and their land, the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Land
  • a briefing on the autonomous monitoring and vigilance system for the Ka'apor land
  • links to the previous Greenpeace reports:

The Amazon Silent Crisis,

The Amazon Silent Crisis: Night Terrors,

The Amazon Silent Crisis: License to Launder

  • maps
  • photo gallery
  • VNR/clipreel


It is extremely important that all media/journalists covering the Ka'apor story in the field are well aware of the conflict-prone nature of the situation in the area and that they assume personal responsibility for the risks involved as Greenpeace cannot take responsibility on their behalf. They should also be aware that the way events might unfold on the ground right before or during their trip could have an impact on the timeline and schedule outlined below.

Logistics & Timeline

We can have groups of 5-6 journalists each time coming to the Ka'apor land to cover the story.

Journalists should arrive and departure from São Luiz, capital of the Amazonian state of Maranhão. It is also the meeting point with Greenpeace team on the ground.

From São Luiz, the team departs into the Ka'apor land, staying there for 2 full-days. We come back to São Luiz on the 5th day.

When / What
Day 1 / Arrival in São Luiz, Maranhão state
Day 2 / São Luiz to Ka'apor land (6,5 hours trip)
Day 3 / Ka´apor land
Day 4 / Ka´apor land
Day 5 / Departure Ka'apor land to São Luiz (6,5h trip)


30/08-03/09 – Group 1

Arriving in São Luis – 30/08

In the Ka'apor land: 31/08 (departure from São Luiz) to 02/09

Departing from the Ka'apor land to São Luiz – 03/09

What to bring:

  • towel
  • cap
  • sunglasses
  • light clothes (dryfit)
  • 1 pair of boots
  • 1 pair of slippers
  • raincoat
  • flashlight
  • extra batteries for equipments
  • drybags
  • personal medication (if needed)
  • sleeping bag
  • personal hygiene products
  • water bottle
  • sunscreen
  • repellent

We recommend to bring:

  • pocket knife
  • swin suit
  • book
  • MP3

[1]Data from 2014, provided by the PRODES project of the National Institute for Space Research.