Amazon tribal chief diagnosed with coronavirus
© Getty Images

A tribal leader who has become a public face of indigenous South Americans’ struggle to preserve the Amazon rainforest has contracted the coronavirus.

Chief Raoni Metuktire, a leader of the Kayapó ethnic group, tested positive while he was hospitalized with pneumonia, according to the Raoni Institute. The institute added that he does not have a fever or breathing problems, The Associated Press reported.

Raoni has been a vocal critic of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s deforestation of indigenous land in the Amazon. His efforts to preserve these territories long predate the Bolsonaro administration, however, including a 1989 press tour with British musician Sting.


Brazil has the second-highest death toll from the virus of any country, coming in behind only the U.S. At least 121,000 Brazilians have died. The indigenous community has been hit especially hard, with more than 700 deaths and about 30,000 cases overall. Earlier this month, the country’s Supreme Court ordered the government to develop a plan to shield indigenous territories from the pandemic.

Bolsonaro himself, meanwhile, has tested positive for the virus at least twice, although he said in July that he had tested negative. The Brazilian president has frequently flouted public health recommendations on mitigating the virus, holding public events without a mask and downplaying its danger.

Raoni’s diagnosis comes about a month after he was hospitalized for nearly two weeks due to diarrhea and dehydration. Raoni was also diagnosed with anemi, ulcers and low blood pressure during that period and needed two blood transfusions, according to the AP.