/>

The Surui take on a challenge as big as the Amazon

This indigenous tribe in Brazil is defending the world's biggest rainforest.

img-4770
James Martin
Cows graze in the razed lands of the State of Rondonia in Brazil
1 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Deforestation in the Amazon has many causes. It started with mining and logging, then moved onto slash-and-burn forest clearing for agriculture.

Unfortunately, the Amazon's shallow soil quickly loses nutrients, causing crops to fail after just a few years. That often forces farmers to convert land to cattle pasture and then cut down more forest to cultivate crops.

See the full story: The True People of the Amazon help save the world

rainforest-roadtrip-8179
2 of 32 James Martin/CNET

This is a makeshift wood-processing facility on the outskirts of the Surui tribe's territory. The tribe named its land after the date of its first contact with the modern world: the Seventh of September.   

t5a7618
3 of 32 James Martin/CNET

People collect palm fronds from the jungle to be used for roofs on some village homes and for making baskets.

t5a7584
4 of 32 James Martin/CNET

A member of the Surui tribe goes on patrol in a remote part of Mato Grosso. He's looking for evidence of illegal mining and logging that he can report to the authorities. 

rainforest-roadtrip-8275
5 of 32 James Martin/CNET

This is a chief of the Paiter-Surui tribe, Almir Narayamoga Surui.

Almir's mission is to ensure the Seventh of September stays intact. 

Before making contact with the outside world in 1969, the Surui would fight off invaders with bow and arrow. Chief Almir has taken a different approach: He's turned to Google Earth to get satellite images of illegal clear-cutting and mining operations.  

Almir looking at Google Earth on a phone
6 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Almir pulls up Google Earth on his smartphone, then zooms in on the Seventh of September to look more closely at an illegal gold mine. 

truck driving through the dark
7 of 32 James Martin/CNET

When you enter the Seventh of September, the farmland shrinks away and the dry air becomes humid. The dirt road turns a dark brick red.

t5a6735
8 of 32 James Martin/CNET

This is Lapetanha, Chief Almir's hometown. The small village of about 75 people boasts electricity, running water, a health clinic and a school. A 12-story steel tower in the center of town brings Wi-Fi to the villagers.

Tribe with bow and arrow
9 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Many of the Surui still hunt with bow and arrow. 

rainforest-roadtrip-6471
10 of 32 James Martin/CNET

A scene of village life in Lapetanha.

Watching Batman on YouTube
11 of 32 James Martin/CNET

A young boy watches Batman videos on YouTube while the adults sit around and talk.

rainforest-roadtrip-7278
12 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Time seems to pass more slowly here. 

t5a6652
13 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Several of the common areas in Lapetanha have open air structures topped with thatch and strung with hammocks.

t5a7878
14 of 32 James Martin/CNET

The Surui know every square foot of the Seventh of September. They can identify all of the trees and animals and have names for every river and creek.

rainforest-roadtrip-6789
15 of 32 James Martin/CNET

A Surui man takes aim with a longbow and arrow.

Cacoal, Brazil Surui headquarters
16 of 32 James Martin/CNET

At the Surui's district headquarters in Cacoal, Brazil, CNET's Dara Kerr (second from right) looks at mapping data the tribe uses to monitor deforestation.

rainforest-roadtrip-7740
17 of 32 James Martin/CNET

This is what the Amazon looks like when untouched by deforestation. It's no wonder early explorers nicknamed the rainforest the "Green Hell."

Brazil Surui map
18 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Google helped train the Surui on using mapping tools. It also added information about the Surui and the Seventh of September to Google Earth. People can now zoom in on the territory to see photos and learn about the Surui's culture and history

brazil-surui-amazon-8169
19 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Along the remote highways in Rondonia, the rainforest's green landscape fades into dusty barren land.

t5a7375
20 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Almost all of Rondonia was once thick with jungle. Now, there's a stark line between deforested land and the rainforest.  

brazil-surui-selects-7658
21 of 32 James Martin/CNET

The Surui are in constant danger as they struggle to defend themselves and their culture. 

"We are honestly under threat from loggers' and miners' guns," Almir wrote in 2016.

Here, Almir walks through the jungle with his shotgun in hand while on patrol in search of any evidence of incursions into the tribal territory.

logging facilities
22 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Loggers primarily go after the Brazil nut tree, which grows perfectly straight and can reach 200 feet tall. We came across this makeshift wood factory in a remote area of Mato Grosso. 

t5a6965
23 of 32 James Martin/CNET

The Surui use 4x4 pickup trucks to go on patrol in the rainforest. They're looking for evidence of mining, logging and other illegal activities in their territory.

Deforestation wood processing facility
24 of 32 James Martin/CNET

A wood processing facility in Mato Grosso. 

Stuck in the jungle
25 of 32 James Martin/CNET

It's not easy driving through the plant-choked, rugged tracks of the rainforest. It took an hour of collective engineering to free this 4x4 from a muddy ditch during one excursion. 

t5a7521
26 of 32 James Martin/CNET

In the heart of what's called the "arc of deforestation," Rondonia is the most deforested state in Brazil's Amazon, according to the  World Wildlife Fund.

brazil-surui-amazon-7867
27 of 32 James Martin/CNET

Deep in Mato Grosso, we turn off the dusty road and Almir drives the pickup up a small hill and into the forest, parking just far enough in to hide his truck among the trees. 

t5a7881
28 of 32 James Martin/CNET

We arrive at a makeshift camp where the tribe has already strung hammocks and set up tents. 

A Surui tribesman prepares a campfire
29 of 32 James Martin/CNET

A member of the Surui prepares a campfire while out on patrol in the  northern section of the tribe's territory.

t5a7879
30 of 32 James Martin/CNET

In all, 28 people are camping here. Tomorrow, we'll walk into the forest on patrol to look for evidence of illegal mining and logging.  

rainforest-roadtrip-6940
31 of 32 James Martin/CNET

The jungle is constantly moving. Scarlet macaws fly overhead as monkeys hop from tree to tree.

brazil-surui-selects-8311.jpg
32 of 32 Surui tribe/CNET

CNET senior reporter Dara Kerr (left), Almir Narayamoga Surui, chief of one of the four clans of the Paiter-Surui tribe (center), and CNET senior photographer James Martin (right), in Lapetanha, Brazil.

See the full story: The True People of the Amazon help save the world

More Galleries

2022 Ford Maverick: This super-affordable hybrid pickup could be a gamechanger

More Galleries

2022 Ford Maverick: This super-affordable hybrid pickup could be a gamechanger

66 Photos
Toyota Land Cruiser J300 flagship is now forbidden fruit

More Galleries

Toyota Land Cruiser J300 flagship is now forbidden fruit

17 Photos
Nintendo Switch: The 36 best games to play in 2021

More Galleries

Nintendo Switch: The 36 best games to play in 2021

37 Photos
Refreshed Tesla Model S has a Knight Rider steering wheel

More Galleries

Refreshed Tesla Model S has a Knight Rider steering wheel

16 Photos
2022 Lexus NX crossover looks better inside and out

More Galleries

2022 Lexus NX crossover looks better inside and out

54 Photos
New movies coming out in 2021: Netflix, Marvel and more

More Galleries

New movies coming out in 2021: Netflix, Marvel and more

65 Photos
2022 Ford Maverick base still makes a strong case

More Galleries

2022 Ford Maverick base still makes a strong case

6 Photos