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Dispatches from the Amazon

From the Field | Travel

November, Board President Don Dana, along with Leakey Grantees Nick Toth and Kathy Schick ventured into the dense jungle of the Amazon Rainforest in search of the Huaorani tribe. Their quest… to learn about the Huaorani’s method of hunting with blowguns and poison darts, dipped in curare. Though The Leakey Foundation did not have a hand in funding this amazing trip, we thought you’d enjoy reading Don’s dispatches from deep in the Amazon. Read them here:


November 10: Departure from Quito


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Drove south from Quito through Avenida de Los Volcanos. Many of the volcanos continue to be very active. Crossed the Andes at Banos, the Gateway to the Amazon, heading for Shiripuno River. The last two legs of our travel were by small planes and dugout canoes.

November 11: Contact with Huaorani


Made contact with the Huaorani. Homes are thatched huts with earthen floors used by multiple families. The Huaorani were discovered in the mid 1950s by discovering the bodies of the first five missionaries who tried to make contact with them. Contrary to popular misinformation, the Huaorani are not cannibals, nor to they shrink heads. The head shrinking is done by the Shwar, the tribe immediately south of here.


The woman in the photo is Dawa, one of the first Huaorani to meet, but not subsequently kill missionaries. She is the only family member to have survived first contact. The rest died from polio and other diseases caught from the missionaries.

November 13: Hunting Methods


The Huaorani hunt with spears and blowguns, but are best known for their blowguns, which shoot darts tipped with curare poison. The hunters can easily hit small birds and monkeys from 30 yards or more. The black colored poison on the tip of the darts paralyzes the muscles of the hunted animal.


The Huaorani eat all that they kill, and everyone in the village shares the meat. Although women and men do different work, women have equal status with men. One of the main jobs of women is to make chicha for the men when they return from the hunt. The drink is made by women thoroughly chewing the yucca plant, spitting out the mixture, then letting the liquid ferment.

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