Real-time technology helps stop illegal mining operation in the Peruvian Amazon

28 June 2018

A map of the affected area in Madre de Dios region.

An indigenous community in the Peruvian Amazon helped to catch illegal gold miners red-handed this month using a smartphone app developed by the Rainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), leading to the dramatic destruction of illegal mining equipment.

The Masenawa community in Peru’s Madre de Dios region has been working with RFUK and local indigenous organisation Federación Nativa del Rio Madre de Dios y Afluentes (FENAMAD) since 2017 to monitor illegal activities using RFUK’s bespoke real-time monitoring system, ForestLink.

The miners were caught just a few kilometres away from the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve. They had set up a temporary camp site as they searched for gold using heavy machinery. This caught the attention of the local Masenawa community who were on an RFUK-supported real-time monitoring (RTM) mission.

Using a smartphone with a satellite uplink, the monitors quickly sent evidence of the illegal activities to FENAMAD, who immediately reported it to the authorities. The government’s environmental police force then intervened dramatically by destroying the miners’ machines, vehicles and other equipment in a series of controlled explosions. Five suspects were detained as a result of the intervention, with charges pending.

FENAMAD's team was on site with police as they seized and then destroyed both the camp site and mining equipment. | Photo credit: FENAMAD

“Communities are the natural guardians of the Amazon. Technologies like ForestLink are helping indigenous peoples to protect the rainforest from illegal mining, even in areas outside their titled lands,” explained FENAMAD’s Real-Time Monitoring Coordinator, Rosa Baca, in a statement.

President of the Masenawa community, Carmen Irey Cameno, is a vocal opponent of gold mining. Since denouncing the recent illegal activities, several members of the community have been threatened and two members of Cameno’s own family have been beaten in retaliation.

“It’s alarming to see environmental defenders threatened and intimidated in this way” said RFUK’s Peru and Andean Amazon Coordinator, Aldo Soto. “At the same time, the determination of Carmen and her people in protecting their environment is truly inspiring. What this intervention shows is the power of harnessing technology for social good and putting it in the hands of local people, who are on the frontlines of the fight against deforestation.”

Madre de Dios is considered to be the ‘capital of biodiversity’ in Peru, home to several natural reserves, as well as the famous Manu National Park. In recent years, illegal gold mining has become one of the leading drivers of deforestation in the region, with an estimated US$15 billion of gold produced illegally between 2003 and 2014 alone.

*RFUK’s RTM project in Peru is supported by the Waterloo Foundation, Fondation Ensemble, Rainforest Fund, Network for Social Change, and with support from public donations. For more information on the project, click here.

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