London’s Natural History Museum Delays Expedition

London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) has suspended a month-long scientific expedition to a remote region of northern Paraguay in light of concern expressed by Paraguay’s government officials in a letter sent to museum officials. The letter mirrors fears raised last week by Iniciativa Amotocodie, a nongovernmental organization that represents indigenous peoples in Paraguay and has protested that scientists taking part in the expedition would run into the indigenous Ayoreo peoples who wish to have no contact with outsiders.

The expedition, which would have started this weekend, aims to explore an area called the Gran Chaco, a semiarid lowland sandwiched between the Andes and the Paraguay River that is a mecca for scientists interested in biodiversity. However, in a letter sent Friday to Richard Lane, scientific director of NHM, the director general of Paraguay’s Ministry of the Environment, Isabel Basualdo, asked for a suspension of the expedition until the concerns over contact with the Ayoreo peoples can be looked into. She writes: “The president of the Indigenous National Institute, whose responsibility it is to guarantee the rights of the indigenous population of Paraguay, warns that consent must be gained from the communities’ recognised leaders, who claim rights over the territory where such expedition will be made.” Basualdo goes on to say that in accordance with article 41 of the American Convention of Human Rights, a commission adopted in 1969 to protect the peoples of the Americas, the Paraguayan government has requested a cancellation of the expedition until such consent can be gained. But she also inidctates thet Paraguay is committed to the expedition and is working to resolve the problems as soon as possible.

The museum had been defending the expedition since the initial protest. (Here’s a video the museum posted of Lane discussing the matter). But in a statement yesterday, NHM said:

The Ministry for the Environment of Paraguay, one of our partners on the joint Natural History Museum and Paraguayan expedition to the Dry Chaco region, has decided to undertake further consultation with the Ayoreo people. The Natural History Museum supports this approach to ensure the community is properly informed and consulted. There will be a suspension of activities while this takes place. The concerns of the un-contacted people are extremely important to us. We will continue to take advice on these matters from the Paraguayan authorities. We hope that the issues can be resolved soon.

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