June 16 - With attention focused on the world's greatest soccer stars in Brazil, conservationists are working hard to promote the plight of the animal being used as the official World Cup mascot. Known as Fuleco on posters and banners throughout the country, the three-banded armadillo is in decline, and conservation groups say FIFA and the Brazilian government should be doing more during the World Cup to ensure the animal's long term survival. Rob Muir reports.
Rooney, Messi, Neymar.. the faces of the world's greatest soccer players are everywhere throughout Brazil. Less famous, but far more important for conservationists is Fulecko, the offical mascot of the World Cup. Fuleco is modelled on Brazil's three-banded armadillo..a mammal best known for its ability to roll itself into a ball. But the armadillo is officially listed as vulnerable by scientists. Its habitat in northeastern Brazil is being detroyed by human expansion and environmentalists like Rodrigo Castro, of the Caatinga Assocation hope that, Fuleco will draw attention to the animal's plight. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RICARDO CASTRO, DIRECTOR OF THE CAATINGA ASSOCIACIAO, SAYING: "It is impossible to believe that an institution like FIFA that is using Fuleco, using the armadillo, the mascot, to increase the profit of the event is not able to put a small part of this extra profit towards the conservation of this so much endangered animal." But so far Castro says he's seen no evidence that World Cup money is flowing in the armadillo's direction. And despite efforts by environmental groups to publicise the situation, store assistant Valke, says Fuleck memorabilia bearing the FIFA trademark are flying off the shelves. (SOUNDBITE) (Portuguese) VALKE, TOY STORE ASSISTANT, SAYING: "People buy. They are a bit more committed to the animal's cause after a strong campaign on the internet, but they don't stop buying the product because of that. Many worry a bit more about the animal itself when they get to know about it, but they buy." But local bar tender Mairton de Melo, says he and many of his customersd are concerned. He says FIFA needs to do more. (SOUNDBITE) (Portuguese) MAIRTON DE MELO, BARTENDER, SAYING: "It is beautiful what FIFA is doing for the country. It is good for Brazil, our country. But the way they are taking advantage of that animal is not good. They should care a bit more about the conservation, do something now that they are taking advantage of it. They should be helping it." The criticism is one of many being leveled at the Brazilian government and FIFA. But amid construction delays and political unrest over the cost of hosting the event, conservationists say they'll have to work hard to keep the three-banded armadillo in the reflected glare of the World Cup.