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  • Now, I'm an ethnobotanist.

  • That's a scientist who works in the rainforest

  • to document how people use local plants.

  • I've been doing this for a long time,

  • and I want to tell you,

  • these people know these forests and these medicinal treasures

  • better than we do and better than we ever will.

  • But also, these cultures,

  • these indigenous cultures,

  • are disappearing much faster than the forests themselves.

  • And the greatest and most endangered species

  • in the Amazon Rainforest

  • is not the jaguar,

  • it's not the harpy eagle,

  • it's the isolated and uncontacted tribes.

  • Now four years ago, I injured my foot in a climbing accident

  • and I went to the doctor.

  • She gave me heat,

  • she gave me cold, aspirin,

  • narcotic painkillers, anti-inflammatories,

  • cortisone shots.

  • It didn't work.

  • Several months later,

  • I was in the northeast Amazon,

  • walked into a village,

  • and the shaman said, "You're limping."

  • And I'll never forget this as long as I live.

  • He looked me in the face and he said,

  • "Take off your shoe and give me your machete."

  • (Laughter)

  • He walked over to a palm tree

  • and carved off a fern,

  • threw it in the fire,

  • applied it to my foot,

  • threw it in a pot of water,

  • and had me drink the tea.

  • The pain disappeared for seven months.

  • When it came back, I went to see the shaman again.

  • He gave me the same treatment,

  • and I've been cured for three years now.

  • Who would you rather be treated by?

  • (Applause)

  • Now, make no mistakeWestern medicine

  • is the most successful system of healing ever devised,

  • but there's plenty of holes in it.

  • Where's the cure for breast cancer?

  • Where's the cure for schizophrenia?

  • Where's the cure for acid reflux?

  • Where's the cure for insomnia?

  • The fact is that these people

  • can sometimes, sometimes, sometimes

  • cure things we cannot.

  • Here you see a medicine man in the northeast Amazon

  • treating leishmaniasis,

  • a really nasty protozoal disease

  • that afflicts 12 million people around the world.

  • Western treatment are injections of antimony.

  • They're painful, they're expensive,

  • and they're probably not good for your heart;

  • it's a heavy metal.

  • This man cures it with three plants from the Amazon Rainforest.

  • This is the magic frog.

  • My colleague, the late great Loren McIntyre,

  • discoverer of the source lake of the Amazon,

  • Laguna McIntyre in the Peruvian Andes,

  • was lost on the Peru-Brazil border about 30 years ago.

  • He was rescued by a group of isolated Indians called the Matsés.

  • They beckoned for him to follow them into the forest, which he did.

  • There, they took out palm leaf baskets.

  • There, they took out these green monkey frogs

  • these are big suckers, they're like this

  • and they began licking them.

  • It turns out, they're highly hallucinogenic.

  • McIntyre wrote about this and it was read by the editor of High Times magazine.

  • You see that ethnobotanists have friends in all sorts of strange cultures.

  • This guy decided he would go down to the Amazon and give it a whirl,

  • or give it a lick, and he did, and he wrote,

  • "My blood pressure went through the roof,

  • I lost full control of my bodily functions,

  • I passed out in a heap,

  • I woke up in a hammock six hours later,

  • felt like God for two days."

  • (Laughter)

  • An Italian chemist read this and said,

  • "I'm not really interested in the theological aspects of the green monkey frog.

  • What's this about the change in blood pressure?"

  • Now, this is an Italian chemist

  • who's working on a new treatment for high blood pressure

  • based on peptides in the skin of the green monkey frog,

  • and other scientists are looking

  • at a cure for drug-resistant Staph aureus.

  • How ironic if these isolated Indians and their magic frog

  • prove to be one of the cures.

  • Here's an ayahuasca shaman

  • in the northwest Amazon, in the middle of a yage ceremony.

  • I took him to Los Angeles to meet a foundation officer

  • looking for support for monies to protect their culture.

  • This fellow looked at the medicine man, and he said,

  • "You didn't go to medical school, did you?"

  • The shaman said, "No, I did not."

  • He said, "Well, then what can you know about healing?"

  • The shaman looked at him and he said,

  • "You know what? If you have an infection, go to a doctor.

  • But many human afflictions are diseases of the heart, the mind and the spirit.

  • Western medicine can't touch those. I cure them."

  • (Applause)

  • But all is not rosy in learning from nature about new medicines.

  • This is a viper from Brazil,

  • the venom of which was studied at the Universidade de São Paulo here.

  • It was later developed into ACE inhibitors.

  • This is a frontline treatment for hypertension.

  • Hypertension causes over 10 percent

  • of all deaths on the planet every day.

  • This is a $4 billion industry

  • based on venom from a Brazilian snake,

  • and the Brazilians did not get a nickel.

  • This is not an acceptable way of doing business.

  • The rainforest has been called the greatest expression of life on Earth.

  • There's a saying in Suriname that I dearly love:

  • "The rainforests hold answers to questions we have yet to ask."

  • But as you all know, it's rapidly disappearing.

  • Here in Brazil, in the Amazon,

  • around the world.

  • I took this picture from a small plane

  • flying over the eastern border of the Xingu indigenous reserve

  • in the state of Mato Grosso to the northwest of here.

  • The top half of the picture,

  • you see where the Indians live.

  • The line through the middle

  • is the eastern border of the reserve.

  • Top half Indians, bottom half white guys.

  • Top half wonder drugs,

  • bottom half just a bunch of skinny-ass cows.

  • Top half carbon sequestered in the forest where it belongs,

  • bottom half carbon in the atmosphere

  • where it's driving climate change.

  • In fact, the number two cause

  • of carbon being released into the atmosphere

  • is forest destruction.

  • But in talking about destruction,

  • it's important to keep in mind

  • that the Amazon is the mightiest landscape of all.

  • It's a place of beauty and wonder.

  • The biggest anteater in the world

  • lives in the rain forest,

  • tips the scale at 90 pounds.

  • The goliath bird-eating spider

  • is the world's largest spider.

  • It's found in the Amazon as well.

  • The harpy eagle wingspan is over seven feet.

  • And the black cayman

  • these monsters can tip the scale at over half a ton.

  • They're known to be man-eaters.

  • The anaconda, the largest snake,

  • the capybara, the largest rodent.

  • A specimen from here in Brazil

  • tipped the scale at 201 pounds.

  • Let's visit where these creatures live,

  • the northeast Amazon,

  • home to the Akuriyo tribe.

  • Uncontacted peoples hold a mystical and iconic role

  • in our imagination.

  • These are the people who know nature best.

  • These are the people who truly live

  • in total harmony with nature.

  • By our standards, some would dismiss these people as primitive.

  • "They don't know how to make fire,

  • or they didn't when they were first contacted."

  • But they know the forest far better than we do.

  • The Akuriyos have 35 words for honey,

  • and other Indians look up to them

  • as being the true masters of the emerald realm.

  • Here you see the face of my friend Pohnay.

  • When I was a teenager rocking out

  • to the Rolling Stones in my hometown of New Orleans,

  • Pohnay was a forest nomad

  • roaming the jungles of the northeast Amazon

  • in a small band, looking for game,

  • looking for medicinal plants,

  • looking for a wife,

  • in other small nomadic bands.

  • But it's people like these

  • that know things that we don't,

  • and they have lots of lessons to teach us.

  • However, if you go into most of the forests of the Amazon,

  • there are no indigenous peoples.

  • This is what you find:

  • rock carvings which indigenous peoples,

  • uncontacted peoples, used to sharpen the edge of the stone axe.

  • These cultures that once danced,

  • made love, sang to the gods,

  • worshipped the forest,

  • all that's left is an imprint in stone, as you see here.

  • Let's move to the western Amazon,

  • which is really the epicenter of isolated peoples.

  • Each of these dots represents

  • a small, uncontacted tribe,

  • and the big reveal today is we believe there are 14 or 15 isolated groups

  • in the Colombian Amazon alone.

  • Why are these people isolated?

  • They know we exist, they know there's an outside world.

  • This is a form of resistance.

  • They have chosen to remain isolated,

  • and I think it is their human right to remain so.

  • Why are these the tribes that hide from man?

  • Here's why.

  • Obviously, some of this was set off in 1492.

  • But at the turn of the last century

  • was the rubber trade.

  • The demand for natural rubber,

  • which came from the Amazon,

  • set off the botanical equivalent of a gold rush.

  • Rubber for bicycle tires,

  • rubber for automobile tires,

  • rubber for zeppelins.

  • It was a mad race to get that rubber,

  • and the man on the left, Julio Arana,

  • is one of the true thugs of the story.

  • His people, his company,

  • and other companies like them

  • killed, massacred, tortured, butchered Indians

  • like the Witotos you see on the right hand side of the slide.

  • Even today, when people come out of the forest,

  • the story seldom has a happy ending.

  • These are Nukaks. They were contacted in the '80s.

  • Within a year, everybody over 40 was dead.

  • And remember, these are preliterate societies.

  • The elders are the libraries.

  • Every time a shaman dies,

  • it's as if a library has burned down.

  • They have been forced off their lands.

  • The drug traffickers have taken over the Nukak lands,

  • and the Nukaks live as beggars

  • in public parks in eastern Colombia.

  • From the Nukak lands, I want to take you to the southwest,

  • to the most spectacular landscape in the world:

  • Chiribiquete National Park.

  • It was surrounded by three isolated tribes

  • and thanks to the Colombian government and Colombian colleagues,

  • it has now expanded.

  • It's bigger than the state of Maryland.

  • It is a treasure trove of botanical diversity.

  • It was first explored botanically in 1943

  • by my mentor, Richard Schultes,

  • seen here atop the Bell Mountain,

  • the sacred mountains of the Karijonas.

  • And let me show you what it looks like today.

  • Flying over Chiribiquete,

  • realize that these lost world mountains are still lost.

  • No scientist has been atop them.

  • In fact, nobody has been atop the Bell Mountain