SA explorers rescued after Amazon nightmare

By Eric Ntabazalila and Judy Damon

Brazilian police have rescued two Cape Town explorers - Johan Dempers and Joe Brooks - from an uncertain fate at hands of the hostile Ashenika Indian tribe deep in the Amazon jungle.

The police were "amazed" the two were still alive when they raided a remote part of the jungle after a tip-off on Tuesday.

News of their rescue was posted on the pair's website on Sunday.

Their lives had been under threat since tribesmen captured them on August 28 while they were conducting the first major exploration of the Jurua River, a largely unexplored tributary of the Amazon River, by canoe.

"The Brazilian police expressed their amazement that we were still alive," Dempers said on the website.

The men were not assaulted during their captivity but were denied medical attention despite suffering numerous ailments and festering sores from exposure to the elements and to insects.

They were held captive in an "extremely remote" part of the jungle, on a major drug-running route from Peru, Dempers wrote.

After they were freed, the Brazilian police flew them to Cruizero Do Sul. They are recovering at Thaumaturgo in eastern Brazil.

Brooks and Dempers were born in Cape Town. Brooks is a specialist in wildlife photography with worldwide success in books, magazines, calendars and scientific journals.

He won the first prize of the Agfa 1990 Wildlife Competition and has travelled widely to photograph wildlife in Japan, Australia, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

Dempers is a specialist aerial photographer. He has been working as a professional photographer for most of his adult life with several major commercial projects under his belt. His work has also been published in print and on the Internet.

Their expedition was planned to investigate in full the little explored Jurua River, all the while recording what they found on film and video.

The exploration was conducted without mechanical aid so as not to disturb the environment. They planned to capture on video and film the fauna and flora and the many isolated tribes in the region, with the aim of producing the first comprehensive illustrated overview of the Jurua River.

They intended to raise public consciousness of the importance of the conservation to the entire Amazon River tributary system and the danger posed by industrialisation and logging to the peoples of the region.

The Jurua River is about 2 410km long, rising in the Cerros de Canchyuaya, in Peru. It flows in a winding course generally north-east through the Acre and Amazonas states in Western Brazil, to the Amazon River east of Fonte Boa.

The two explorers' website says the Rio Jurua region in the Amazon basin has more species than any other area in the world with an astonishing 1 620 species of butterfly, 616 of bird, 300 spider, 140 frog, 103 bat, 64 bee, 50 reptile and 16 monkey species.

The region has lost vast tracts to illegal logging and clearing for agriculture.

The illegal logging market is not only damaging to the environment but also harms legal, controlled and non-damaging logging concerns.

Fuelled by the demand for cheap supplies of mahogany and other tropical timbers both in Brazil and abroad, the illegal timber trade represents a major factor in forest degradation.

The Brazilian government itself estimates that 80% of all timber produced in the Amazon is illegal.

The two Capetonians hoped their expedition would highlight these issues and bring them to the attention of the broader public through media coverage, printed publications and a television documentary.

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