SAO PAULO (AP) — A Brazilian environmental group has launched an effort to save the endangered three-banded armadillo, the mascot for the World Cup that starts next month.
Liana Sena, one of the coordinators of the Caatinga Association, said Tuesday the armadillo is in danger of extinction, largely because of deforestation and hunting in its habitat in the shrub lands of northeastern Brazil. Its meat is considered a delicacy by many in the region.
Those risks in large part are why the armadillo was chosen as World Cup mascot. Another is that when it's frightened, it rolls up into a ball small enough to fit into one hand, looking like a tan soccer ball.
Its hard shell protects it from its natural predators, jaguars and foxes, but it becomes easy prey for hunters since it does not dig a hole to hide in, she said.
"We hope the World Cup's mascot will help society and government become more aware of the importance of saving the armadillo and its natural habitat from extinction," Sena said.
The mascot is called "Fuleco," derived from the Portuguese words for football and ecology. It carries the colors of the Brazilian flag — the armadillo is portrayed as yellow, with green shorts and a blue shell and tail. It is dressed in a white shirt emblazoned with the words "Brazil 2014."
"We hope our project will take the armadillo off the list of endangered species in 10 years," Sena said, adding that if nothing is done to save the animal it will be extinct in 50 years.
She said the project's first task is to make a population estimate of the species and update its distribution map.
The next step, she said, is to create environmental conservation units for the armadillo and introduce environmental education classes in the region's schools.