The Forgotten Armadillo (4 Comments)

The three-banded armadillo, the 2014 World Cup Mascot (source: http://www.acaatinga.org.br)

A few years ago, a great frenzy took over the Brazilian media and some social circles; the three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), a charming species from northeastern Brazil had been chosen to be the 2014 World Cup Mascot. This was the first time that a country-endemic and endangered species had been chosen to be the “poster boy”, for the host country of the competition! He shunned other tough candidates, such as “Pelézinho”, the comic book character inspired in the “king of football”, Pelé. Many environmentalists and politicians saw this as a great opportunity to not only save the species from extinction, but also to use it as an umbrella for safeguarding its environment, the Caatinga and the Cerrado, and consequently, many other species and resources. Even FIFA thought the mascot could “play a key role in driving environmental awareness […] and encourage people to behave in an environmentally-friendly way” (see FIFA’s press release here). The World Cup was expected to leave a great “green” legacy, not only in the motherland of our little armadillo friend, but also all over the country!  Among other things, better practices in waste and energy management was expected to be implemented and the government announced an exciting program called “Parques da Copa” (World Cup Parks), which was supposed to invest nearly US$ 300 million in infrastructure in 47 conservation units that are likely to attract visitors during and after the event (Mello et al. 2014). These all seem very unlikely now.

This is not an actual three-banded armadillo

This is not an actual three-banded armadillo

Public and private organizations have spend a lot of money on publicity to attract not only football fans, but also all kind of tourists from all over the World, to come visit the country during the event. The marketing strategy used seems to differ a bit from previous host countries (except for South Africa, maybe) in that the promotion actions not only show the country’s football superstars, people, cities and landscapes, as it is usually done, but they are also heavily based in the country’s wildlife. Commercials showing aerial views of large patches of natural ecosystems, local fruits and flowers, and charismatic mammals and birds are common (see the official poster here and a promo video here). And that would seem to be an appropriate marketing strategy, as Brazil tops the list of the “Megadiverse” countries (i.e., a group of countries that harbor the majority of the Earth’s species), sheltering nearly 60,000 species of vascular plants, amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles. But that is where the counter sense lies. Before I continue I just want to leave clear that this post is not suppose to be against the World Cup itself. To be honest I think it’s going to be fun! This post is about the worrisome environmental setbacks that are currently going on in Brazil. Brazilian natural beauties seem to be the main differential of the country to be shown and sold to the World, and yet it is what the country seems to be willing to give away.

Over the recent past, the Brazilian government has taken some serious steps backwards in terms of nature conservation that menaces its biodiversity and natural resources. The new Forest Act (one of our main national environmental legislations) is considered the worst environmental setback in half a century (see Metzger et al. 2010 and Soares-Filho et al. 2014). Among other things, it provides amnesty for illegal deforestation and reduces the area required for conservation and restoration. Under the former Forest Act, 50 million ha of deforested area were supposed to be restored, but under the new regulation, this number dropped to about 29 million ha. It also allows additional deforestation, especially in the Cerrado and in the Caatinga (the home of our beloved armadillo). The new Forest Act will allow the deforestation of approximately 88 million ha in the country, 4 million ha in the Caatinga alone.

Since the beginning of this century, Brazilian government has also started a process of downgrading, downsizing and removing the legal protection of entire protected areas (Bernard et al., 2014). Unfortunately, this practice has become widespread among many countries (see more information and a global map here). Brazil has already lost (or more precisely, “given up”) over 5 million ha of protected areas (Bernard et al., 2014). And it is likely to loose other 2.1 million ha of protected areas only in the Amazonian region (Bernard et al., 2014) in the next years, given the implementation of infrastructure projects such as huge hydroelectric plants. And these numbers refer only to public protected areas. Total deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28% between 2012 and 2013.

Fig 1. Brazilian protected areas that have been downgraded, downsized or lost its legal protection (degazettement).

Brazilian protected areas that have been downgraded, downsized or lost its legal protection (degazettement). Source: http://www.padddtracker.org

Fig 2. Federal protected area downsized and degazetted (cumulative) from 1981 to 2011. Dashed lines, demarcate presidential terms, which I preferred to not include here. From:  Bernard et al. 2014.

Federal protected area downsized and degazetted (cumulative) from 1981 to 2011. Dashed lines demarcate presidential terms, which I preferred to not include here. From: Bernard et al. 2014.

As we get closer to the beginning of the World Cup, the “Parques da Copa” program seems to be heading toward a fiasco. The number of protected areas benefiting from this program has been drastically reduced to only 16 parks, and less than two percent of the promised investments were actually granted (Melo et al. 2014).

If you are not a Brazilian, why should you be interested in our Forest Act and in the loss of our native ecosystems? With the current management policies we are not only losing biological beauty.  Brazilian ecosystems provide a broad range of ecosystem services that affect not only our country itself, but also the entire planet! The country has the largest renewable fresh water supply in the World (~8233 km3/yr, this is more than Russia and Canada putted together! See a map here); Brazilian forests stock more carbon than any other tropical country (Saatchi et al. 2011; see a map here), which has serious effects on the global climate, e.g., Medvigy et al. (2013) show that the Amazon deforestation may drastically reduce rain and snowfall in the coastal northwest United States and in the Sierra Nevada, which might result in water and food shortages, and increase the risk of forest fires in the US.

As for our little charismatic friend, the three-banded armadillo, things are not looking too good. Its population has declined by 30% in the past 10 years. Some specialists believe that the species should be re-classified as “critically endangered” (see here). And yet, not a single action has been taken to protect it from extinction or to save its habitat, as it was expected. Some recent published climate change models suggest that the species may disappear in a few decades (Zimbres et al. 2012).

References

Bernard, E., Penna L., & Araújo, E. (2014). Downgrading, Downsizing, Degazettement, and Reclassification of Protected Areas in Brazil. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12298

Saatchi, S. S., Harris, N. L., Brown, S., Lefsky, M., Mitchard, E. T., Salas, W.,  & Morel, A. (2011). Benchmark map of forest carbon stocks in tropical regions across three continents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(24), 9899-9904. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1019576108

Medvigy, D., Walko, R. L., Otte, M. J., & Avissar, R. (2013). Simulated Changes in Northwest US Climate in Response to Amazon Deforestation. Journal of Climate, 26(22).  DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00775.1

Melo, F. P., Siqueira, J. A., Santos, B. A., Álvares‐da‐Silva, O., Ceballos, G.,  & Bernard, E. (2014). Football and Biodiversity Conservation: FIFA and Brazil Can Still Hit a Green Goal. Biotropica. DOI: 10.1111/btp.12114

Metzger, J. P., Lewinsohn, T. M., Joly, C. A., Verdade, L. M., Martinelli, L. A., & Rodrigues, R. R. 2010. Brazilian law: full speed in reverse? Science 329, 276-277. DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5989.276-b

Soares-Filho, B., Rajão, R., Macedo, M., Carneiro, A., Costa, W., Coe, M., & Alencar, A. (2014). Cracking Brazil’s Forest Code. Science, 344(6182), 363-364. DOI: 10.1126/science.1246663

Zimbres, B. Q., de Aquino, P. D. P. U., Machado, R. B., Silveira, L., Jácomo, A. T., Sollmann, R., & Marinho-Filho, J. (2012). Range shifts under climate change and the role of protected areas for armadillos and anteaters. Biological Conservation, 152: 53-61. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.04.010

May 5, 2014