Police investigate death of environmentalist in Brazil Amazon

 Brazilian federal police are investigating the apparent murder of an environmentalist who defended one of the last virgin stretches of rain forest in the eastern Amazon.

Police superintendent Alexandre Saraiva told Globo TV`s evening news programme on Wednesday that solving the death of Raimundo Santos Rodrigues in the Gurupi reserve in the northern state of Maranhao was "an absolute priority." 

Witnesses who declined to be identified told the programme Santos Rodrigues and his wife were ambushed while crossing a bridge by gunmen hiding in the forest. The wife survived. Santos Rodrigues had previously received death threats, the local witnesses said.

Environmental reserves in northern Brazil, a region home to indigenous tribes living in isolation, have been invaded by illegal loggers who frequently resort to violence against those who try to keep them out of protected areas. 

Advocacy group Global Witness called Brazil the most dangerous place in the world to defend the environment in a report last year, with 448 activists murdered between 2002 and 2013.

Santos Rodrigues` death, which occurred on Tuesday, is being investigated on the federal level because he was a local representative of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, which is linked to the Environment Ministry.

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