It wasn't so much a hoax as a publicity stunt. The famous photos of the "lost tribe" in the Amazon forest are real, but the remarkable story behind them is not.
Last month, Jose Carlos Meirelles claimed that the Amazon warriors painted in red with arrows pointed at his aircraft were from an "undiscovered tribe" along the Brazilian-Peruvian border that had never been in contact with other humans.
The Observer on Sunday reported that Meirelles confessed that his group, the Brazilian Indian Protection Agency, otherwise known as Funai, had known the whereabouts of the tribe, flew over the group to take pictures and published the photos to bolster a campaign to protect endangered tribes in the area from the logging industry.
"When we think we might have found an isolated tribe," he told al-Jazeera, "a sertanista like me walks in the forest for two or three years to gather evidence and we mark it in our [global positioning system]. We then map the territory the Indians occupy and we draw that protected territory without making contact with them. And finally we set up a small outpost where we can monitor their protection."
Meirelles said he borrowed a plane for a few days and flew over a 150-kilometer area where he thought the tribe may be, based off GPS data he had about the tribe as well as Google Earth co-ordinates that showed clearings in the forest. After seeing only huts for two days, he finally spotted the Indians hours before he had to return the plane.
"When I saw them painted red, I was satisfied, I was happy," he said. "Because painted red means they are ready for war, which to me says they are happy and healthy defending their territory."
The existence of the tribe had actually been known for about a century. Funai learned about this small group of Indians about 20 years ago.
Though many are likely to criticize Meirelles, Survival International and Funai for the flyover – clearly disturbing the tribe – they all defend their decision to take the photos and publish them, claiming the media coverage over the photos last month forced Peru to re-examine its logging policy near where the tribe lives.
Meirelles says he has no regrets and plans to keep the tribe’s location secret. "They can decide when they want contact, not me or anyone else."