A long time theme here at iSteve.com is defending human biodiversity. Although defending plant and animal biodiversity is extremely fashionable, nobody else speaks up for human biodiversity. Of particular concern to me has been the survival of the pygmy negrito Andamanese of North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean (located roughly where Skull Island in "King Kong" would be), one of the last tribes out of contact with the rest of the world. If they ever come into contact with us, most of them will die from diseases for which they have no defenses.
Fortunately, the Sentinelese have no intention of going down without a fight. The Daily Telegraph reports:
Stone Age tribe kills fishermen who strayed on to island
By Peter Foster in New Delhi
One of the world's last Stone Age tribes has murdered two fishermen whose boat drifted on to a desert island in the Indian Ocean.
The Sentinelese, thought to number between 50 and 200, have rebuffed all contact with the modern world, firing a shower of arrows at anyone who comes within range.
They are believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world to remain isolated and appear to have survived the 2004 Asian tsunami.
The two men killed, Sunder Raj, 48, and Pandit Tiwari, 52, were fishing illegally for mud crabs off North Sentinel Island, a speck of land in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands archipelago. Fellow fishermen said they dropped anchor for the night on Jan 25 but fell into a deep sleep, probably helped by large amounts of alcohol. During the night their anchor, a rock tied to a rope, failed to hold their open-topped boat against the currents and they drifted towards the island.
"As day broke, fellow fishermen say they tried to shout at the men and warn them they were in danger," said Samir Acharya, the head of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, an environmental organisation. "However they did not respond - they were probably drunk - and the boat drifted into the shallows where they were attacked and killed."
After the fishermen's families raised the alarm, the Indian coastguard tried to recover the bodies using a helicopter but was met by the customary hail of arrows.
Photographs shot from the helicopter show the near-naked tribesmen rushing to fire. But the downdraught from its rotors exposed the two fisherman buried in shallow graves and not roasted and eaten, as local rumour suggested.
Mr Acharya said the erroneous belief in the tribe's cannibalism grew from the practice of another tribe, the Onge, who would cut up and burn their dead to avoid them returning as evil spirits.
"People saw the flesh cooking on the fire and thought they must be cannibals but this incident clearly contradicts that belief," he said.
Attempts to recover the bodies of the two men have been suspended, although the Andaman Islands police chief, Dharmendra Kumar, said an operation might be mounted later. "Right now, there will be casualties on both sides," he said from Port Blair. "The tribesmen are out in large numbers. We shall let things cool down and once these tribals move to the island's other end we will sneak in and bring back the bodies."
Environmental groups urged the authorities to leave the bodies and respect the three-mile exclusion zone thrown around the island.
In the 1980s and early 1990s many Sentinelese were killed in skirmishes with armed salvage operators who visited the island after a shipwreck. Since then the tribesmen have remained virtually undisturbed.
DNA analysis of another tribe, the Jarawa, whose members made first contact with the outside world in 1997, suggest that the tribesmen migrated from Africa around 60,000 years ago.
However, the experience of the Jarawa since their emergence - sexual exploitation, alcoholism and a measles epidemic - has encouraged efforts to protect the Sentinelese from a similar fate.
My 2002 interview with the founder of the Andaman Association, George Weber, is here.
John Derbyshire has scanned in the two great pictures of Andamanese from Carleton Coon's 1965 classic The Living Races of Man. That picture of a steatopygous Andaman mom and how she carries her toddler around is now on-line here. The portrait of a young pygmy negrito couple of Little Andaman Island, his arm lovingly around her shoulders, the joy in each other's company radiating outward. It's as happy a picture as you'll ever see. This photo is now on-line here, [Not safe for work in a National Geographic way.]