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The Brazilian three-banded armadillo will be visible everywhere for the next month as the World Cup's mascot, "Fuleco." But the creature is now one of 22,103 plant and animal species deemed in danger of extinction.
In the 50th year of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) "Red List" of endangered species, updated on World Cup opening day, the football competition's own mascot has won inclusion in a lengthy list of endangered animals and plants.
Tolypeutes tricinctus, more commonly known as the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, is classified as "vulnerable to extinction in the wild" on the IUCN list. That's category three out of seven, starting at "least concern" and ending with "extinct."
"The species is believed to have declined by more than a third over the last 10 to 15 years due to a 50-percent loss of its dry shrubland 'Caatinga' habitat," the IUCN list said.
'Definitely not pets'
The armadillo rolls itself up into a heavily armored ball as a defense mechanism against predators - perhaps one of the reasons it was chosen as a suitable World Cup mascot. However, this defensive pose does little to deter humans, who can duly pick the animal up; the prospect of increased public interest owing to its mascot status has the IUCN concerned.
"The situation is even worse than we thought," Mariella Superina, chair of the IUCN's anteater, sloth and armadillo specialist group, told the Reuters news agency. "Three-banded armadillos are very easy to catch. People see it as a cute animal because it rolls itself up into a ball. We are worried that people will want them as pets. They are definitely not pets."
The name "Fuleco" was even given to the lifesize armadillo lookalike at the World Cup with the environment in mind: officially, the name was supposed to be a fusion of Portuguese words futebol (football) and ecologia (ecology). This name backfired somewhat domestically, however, because "fuleco" is also a popular Brazilian slang term for anus.
Overfished eels, too few wild orchids
Several of the 22,103 species considered in danger of extinction - out of almost 74,000 analyzed - are already well known. Besides the tigers, polar bears and rhinoceroses, the recently-evaluated Japanese eel has reached "endangered" status, because of overfishing. The eel is an expensive and popular delicacy in Japan.
The agency also warned on Thursday that 79 percent of temperate slipper orchids, so called because of their flowers resembling footwear, are threatened with extinction in North America, Europe and parts of Asia, even though the plants are popular and cultivated industrially.
"Although the industry is sustained by cultivated stock, conservation of wild species is vital for its future," IUCN orchid specialist Hassan Rankou said.
Twenty-two of the world's surviving 101 species of lemurs are considered "critically endangered," one step from extinction in the wild, while 94 of them are included on the Red List. The IUCN is celebrating its 50th year, having first compiled a Red List of endangered species in 1964.
msh/jm (dpa, Reuters)