Large-scale forest conservation with an Indigenous People in the Amazon

This book chapter examines the struggle of the Kayapó to protect their constitutional territorial rights in the highly-threatened southeastern Amazon of Brazil. 21st century alliances of the Kayapò with conservation organisations have enabled protection of over 9 million hectares of their contiguous ratified territories.

For over 40 years the Kayapó Indigenous People have battled to protect their constitutionally enshrined rights to their forest territory as frontier settlements and resource extraction operations threatened their borders. The Kayapó reside in highly threatened primary forests in south eastern Amazon of Brazil - a key frontline in fight to restrain biodiversity loss and climate change.

In this study we explored the conditions that both enable and threaten the Kayapó’s continued success in thwarting deforestation and we identified key strategies for continued protection and success.

We found that 21st century alliances forged between the Kayapó and conservation non-government organisations (NGOs) have enabled the protection of over 9 million hectares of their contiguous ratified territories.

Satellite analysis of Kayapó territory, between 2001 and 2019, revealed a significant correlation between the location of deforestation hotspots and the presence/absence of NGO investment with Kayapo communities.

Key to the success of the alliances has been the development of scalable resource management and income generation activities with Kayapó communities, and a strengthening of Kayapó territorial surveillance. These guard-posts give the Kayapó control over access, blocking illegal incursions, and is essential, in the absence of effective, or disinterested government enforcement, of Indigenous land rights.

Philanthropic investments into the Kayapó over the past two decades has made the difference between protection and rampant invasion and degradation of Kayapo territories. And conservation NGOs have  enabled Kayapó communities to set up their own Indigenous NGOs that are critical to build capacity for managing territories sustainably.

This book chapter is summarised in a policy brief (PDF) that is free to download.


Kayapo Territory
Satellite imagery showing the overlap between successful forest conservation from deforestation and Kayapó sovereign land.

Article authors

Barbara Zimmerman

Barbara Zimmerman

Barbara is the Director Kayapo Project on behalf of the International Conservation Fund of Canada playing a key role in support of Indigenous Peoples in conservation of very large areas of forest in Brazilian Amazon.
Dominick Dellasala

Dominick DellaSalla

Dominick is Chief Scientist at Wild Heritage, and former President of the Society for Conservation Biology, North America Section and internationally renowned author of over 200 science papers on forest and fire ecology, conservation biology, endangered species management, and landscape ecology. .
Sonia Hugh

Sonia Hugh

Sonia is a GIS modelling expert at multiple scales, specialising in visualisation of geographic data and spatial and temporal ecological modelling.

Additional authors

Schwartzman, S., Jerozolimski, A., Esllei, J., and Santini, E.


Zimmerman, B., Schwartzman, S., Jerozolimski, A., Esllei, J., Santini, E., Hugh, S., 2020. Large Scale Forest Conservation With an Indigenous People in the Highly Threatened Southeastern Amazon of Brazil: The Kayapo. In: Goldstein, M.I., DellaSala, D.A. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of the World's Biomes, vol. 3. Elsevier, pp. 27–34. ISBN: 9780128160961

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