Poachers targeting rich fishing grounds in India’s Andaman Islands are endangering the world’s most isolated tribe.
More than a hundred illegal fishermen from Burma have been arrested in recent weeks. Fourteen were fishing off North Sentinel Island, home to the Sentinelese tribe, who attack anyone approaching their island. Members of the tribe killed two fishermen in 2006.
Burmese and local Indian poachers also threaten the survival of the Jarawa tribe, who have only had contact with outsiders since 1998. An Indian poacher and a Jarawa man died in a conflict in the Jarawa’s reserve in 2008.
The Indian coast guard has announced a series of arrests of more than a hundred Burmese poachers since late August, mostly in the vicinity of the Jarawa’s reserve. However, local Indian poachers are rarely targeted.
Poachers catch turtles and dive for lucrative sea cucumber for the Chinese market, and also hunt in the Jarawa’s forest. Local poachers often enter by the illegal road that cuts through the tribe’s land. Survival has repeatedly urged the local authorities to close the road, but it remains open.
Local sources say the scale of the problem is much greater than the recent arrests suggest, with most poachers going undetected.
Both the Jarawa and the Sentinelese are hunter-gatherers, and theft of the fish and animals in their territory endangers their food supply. Poachers also risk introducing common diseases to the tribes. The Sentinelese are especially at risk: their complete isolation means they are likely to have no immunity to diseases such as flu and measles.1
- The Sentinelese are believed to be the world’s most isolated tribe, and have no contact with outsiders.