By Cadija Tissiani
If football is able to mobilize crowds, the World Cup seems to be a golden opportunity to bring public attention to a cause.
In the case of the three-banded armadillo, the cause is noble. The species -- found only in Brazil -- was chosen as the mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup after a virtual campaign led by Associação Caatinga, an NGO whose mission is to preserve the biodiversity of the Brazilian Caatinga biome.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the three-banded armadillo could become extinct in another 50 years. Its population declined 30 percent between 2000 and 2012, mostly due to accelerated deforestation of the Caatinga.
The armadillo and its home, which up until now had been unknown to most people, will be the center of needed attention and will shine a light on a species and region in desperate need of conservation.
The Caatinga Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Anteater, Sloth & Armadillo Specialist Group (ASASG), and the IUCN, drew up a long-term plan to save the Tolypeutes tricinctus from extinction, protect the rich biodiversity of the biome, and ensure the maintenance of environmental services provided by forests. All four environmental organizations have long been working for the protection of the Caatinga.
The ten-year initiative will provide a set of actions to:
- Increase knowledge about the species and the biomes it inhabits, namely the Caatinga and the Cerrado (the latter is Brazil´s Central Savannas).
- Create protected areas and ecological corridors where the species can be studied and protected.
- Make the three-banded armadillo and its natural habit more widely known.
- Promote environmental education to raise awareness.
Gaining the support of the World Cup sponsors will provide funding that will allow for:
- Research on the species’ distribution and estimated population.
- Mapping of the armadillo’s genetic information to chart the areas where it faces the greatest risks.
- Support the call for new conservation efforts in habitats crucial to the armadillo’s survival.
- Implementation of an environmental education strategy in local communities to help ensure the sustainability of the project.
"We hope that both citizens and the private sector become aware of the importance of this species and of the biomes where it lives, recognizing the need to protect them. It is important to keep in mind that everyone gains with the armadillo’s protection. That is the message that the World Cup in Brazil will help us disseminate", concluded João Campari, director of the Conservancy´s Atlantic Forest and Central Savannas conservation program in Brazil.
Scientific Name: Tolypeutes tricinctus
Tolypeutes tricinctus is the smallest, the least known and the only armadillo species endemic to Brazil, where it lives in the Cerrado and Caatinga biomes. It is also the armadillo species facing the most threat and the most sensitive to changes in the environment. In average, the three-banded armadillo measures approximately 20 inches and weighs about 2.2 pounds. It has survived throughout its 140 million years of evolution thanks to its ability to make itself into a ball when threatened. It does that by bending its shell, which is formed by three flexible bands. That capability protects it from predators, such as the jaguar, but does nothing to protect it from humans. That is why hunting is the main threat to the survival of the species, followed by habit change and destruction.