Armadillo mascot scores before World Cup even starts

Armadillo in Brazil.jpg
Copyright: Mehgan Murphy/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Speed read

  • Scientists said the organisers were neglecting the contest’s ecological aims
  • A plan to protect the mascot’s real-life counterpart has now been published
  • There are also hopes that the armadillo’s forest habitat will also be conserved

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[RIO DE JANEIRO] A call by Brazilian scientists to protect the endangered mascot of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, seems to have been heeded by the Brazilian government.

On 22 May, the Brazilian government published an action plan to conserve this armadillo, which is unique to Brazil.

The document proposes increasing the protected areas where the armadillo lives, enhancing financial incentives to prevent three-banded armadillo hunting and increasing education about the importance of protecting this species.
A month before the plan was published, a group of scientists criticised FIFA — football’s international governing body — and the Brazilian government for squandering a major opportunity to deliver a true conservation legacy for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by protecting the mascot’s real-life counterpart.

In their article, published on 22 April in the Biotropica journal, the researchers stated that after the mascot, named Fuleco (a combination of the Portuguese words for football and ecology), was chosen nothing was proposed to protect the armadillo or its habitat: the caatinga, a type of tropical dry forest.

The authors then offered three proposals to enable the World Cup, which begins next week, to live up to its promised ecological legacy.

First, fulfilling a 2011 commitment by the Brazilian government to invest US$275 million in the infrastructure of 47 protected areas. Two years later, this was reduced to only 16 areas and less than two per cent of this funding was actually granted, the authors said.

Second, creating caatinga-specific conservation areas. The authors suggested declaring 1,000 hectares of protected area for each goal scored during the World Cup, which — based on the results at previous tournaments — could lead to the conservation of up to 171,000 hectares.

Finally, accelerating the completion and publication of a conservation plan for the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, which had not been issued despite the species having been classified as ‘vulnerable’ nearly two decades ago.

“The government was already working on the plan, but I think our article put pressure to have it released as fast as possible,” Enrico Bernard, the corresponding author of the article and a biologist from the Federal University of Pernambuco, in Brazil, tells SciDev.Net.

Emilio Bruna, a tropical ecologist at the University of Florida in the United States and editor of Biotropica, agrees.

“My opinion may be biased, but I believe the article did have an impact,” he says. “It was widely reported on both the traditional media and social networks, with one of the stories receiving 19,000 recommendations alone.”

The Brazilian Ministry of Environment declined to comment on the issue.

One down, two to go

Bernard says the conservation plan may lead the government to implement the second proposal as well.

“The action plan provides for the creation of a protected area in the caatinga,” he says.

Data from the Ministry of Environment shows that the caatinga once covered 11 per cent of Brazil, but is now less than half its original size.

“The expansion of protected areas is important, but there have to be more resources allocated to the management and protection of these areas,” Bruna adds.

In the article, the authors urge FIFA and the Brazilian government to use the FIFA World Cup Legacy Trust, which aims to boost community development, to fund these actions after the competition.

“Using the trust for environmental issues and not only social ones would create a new baseline for future World Cups,” says Bernard.

Link to full article in Biotropica
Link to executive summary of the conservation plan (in Portuguese)


Biotropica doi: 10.1111/btp.12114 (2014)