After trekking nearly two hours through dense jungle, Brazilian government environmental special forces burst into a clearing where the trees had been sawn and a muddy crater dug: an illegal gold mine on indigenous land in the heart of the Amazon.
The miners and gold were already gone, scattered by the whir of helicopter blades, but armed troopers in camouflage burned tents and generators. When there was nothing left, they moved on to the next.
The five-day operation last week, coordinated by Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama and Indian foundation Funai, located 15 air strips and destroyed 20 barges used to transport equipment and supplies by the estimated 5,000 illegal miners in the vast remote region.
At more than 23.5 million acres (9.5 million hectares), the Yanomami people’s territory is twice the size of Switzerland and home to around 27,000 indigenous people.
The land has legally belonged to the Yanomami since 1992, but miners continue to exploit the area, sawing down trees and poisoning rivers with mercury in their lust for gold.