It’s official! The Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) is the mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup which will take place in Brazil.
This poorly known species, which is found only in Brazil, is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. It was believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1988 in a handful of locations. The Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo is quite unique as when threatened, it rolls up into an almost impenetrable ball with its ears tucked into the shell and the head and tail interlocked to seal the shell completely. It is one of only two species of armadillo (the other is the Southern Three-banded Armadillo) that can roll into a ball.
"We are sure that the fact that a threatened species is featured in such an important event will not only trigger conservation initiatives to save the Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo from extinction, but also help increase awareness for biodiversity conservation in general,” said Dr Mariella Superina, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group.
Brazilian NGO, Associação Caatinga, led the campaign to make the Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo the mascot of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The IUCN SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group, along with The Nature Conservancy, have now joined Associação Caatinga as partners in the next stage of the campaign to increase awareness of this wonderful species and generate additional funding for conservation.
Scientific projects aimed at the long-term conservation of the Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo resulting from this funding will be coordinated by the Deputy Chair of the IUCN SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group, Dr Flávia Miranda. Projects will include; scientific research; campaigns to raise awareness for conservation issues among the general public, especially, the local population; the creation of protected areas; and other actions that will help reduce the pressures on the Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo, known locally as “tatu-bola”.
Found mainly in dry thorn scrub of north-eastern Brazil, but also in bush savannah in central Brazil, this species of armadillo does not dig holes but instead lives in abandoned burrows. Measuring about 27cm, it is nocturnal and feeds on ants and termites as well as any grubs or spiders it encounters. It finds food by shuffling slowly along with its nose to the ground. When it detects prey, it frantically digs a hole and thrusts its nose into it, using its long, sticky tongue to lap up any food it finds.
The Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo is threatened by heavy hunting pressure and habitat loss. One of the main causes of deforestation in the Caatinga - one of the areas this species of armadillo is found - is the extraction of native forest for the production of firewood. Plantations of biofuel crops and cattle ranching are additional problems that significantly affect its habitat.
As football fans eagerly anticipate the next FIFA World Cup, armadillo fans and conservationists look forward to seeing the results of increased awareness and funding for this unique and unusual looking species.