A group of Latin American scientists is urging FIFA to help save the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, an endangered species which has been picked as the mascot for the World Cup.
Five biologists from Brazil and one from Mexico have written a paper in which they ask the world soccer association to invest in conservation schemes that would save the armored mammal, known locally as the Tatu Bola.
“As soccer fans and conservationists we challenge FIFA and Brazil to fulfill an ambitious objective,” says the report written by six armadillo specialists in Bio Tropica, a scientific journal. “Protect one thousand hectares of Caatinga for every goal scored in the World Cup.”
The last World Cup yielded 170 goals according to BBC Mundo, so around 170,000 hectares of the Tatu Bola’s ecosystem, an area twice as large as New York City, could be saved if FIFA agrees to this scheme. FIFA has yet to respond to the scientists’ request.
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The Tatu Bola inhabits an arid area of north eastern Brazil known as the Caatinga, and a slightly more humid area known as the Cerrado.
It is under threat because the growth of sugar cane and soy plantations have encroached on its habit, and because local people hunt it for food.
Brazil’s World Cup organizing committee picked the Tatu Bola as its mascot, because the specimen is only found in Brazil, and it is one of the few armadillos that can completely roll itself into a ball.
The organizing committee also said that it wanted to raise awareness of this species’ plight, a decision which was widely applauded by FIFA officials.
"The fact that the three-banded armadillo is a vulnerable species is very fitting," FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said in a statement published in 2012. "One of the key objectives through the 2014 FIFA World Cup is to use the event as a platform to communicate the importance of the environment and ecology."
As the World Cup approaches the Tatu Bola appears in t-shirts, hats, mugs and all sorts of World Cup paraphernalia, helping organizers to make millions in merchandising.
But scientists from Brazil and Mexico argue that FIFA should do more than just raise awareness of the Tatu Bola’s existence.
Scientists consulted by BBC Mundo said that so far, FIFA has done nothing to save the Tatu Bola, besides depicting the animal on World Cup merchandise.
“They’ve earned a lot of money with the mascot, but the sad reality is that they have not invested resources in the conservation of the species or its habitat,” said Flavia Miranda, the V.P. for Armadillo Research at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The cute Tatu-Bola that is depicted on World Cup merchandise is named Fuleco, a combination of the words football and ecology in Portuguese. The name was the top vote getter in an online contest in which millions of fans participated.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.