Meet the World Cup's endangered armadillo mascot

SAO PAULO – Fuleco, the official mascot of the World Cup, is cute and cuddly and wears the kind of confident smile you might expect from a cartoon figure that will be part of soccer’s most important showpiece.

He also, sadly, represents a species hovering on the verge of extinction and caught in the middle of a conservation battle involving soccer’s world governing body FIFA and outraged environmentalists.

Fuleco is based upon the rare Brazilian three-banded armadillo and might be the most perfect choice as mascot in tournament history, given that the animal’s unique defense system to protect itself from predators is by rolling itself up into a ball.
— Martin Rogers

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A handout undated picture released by A Caatinga NGO shows a Brazilian Three banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), aka Tatu-Bola in Portuguese. The Tatu-Bola was chosen as the mascot of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 and will be presented next September 16 during a television programme. AFP PHOTO/ Mark PAYNE-GILL/naturepl.com/A Caatinga RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/ Mark PAYNE-GILL/naturepl.com/A Caatinga" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSMark Payne-Gill/AFP/GettyImages

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A handout undated picture released by A Caatinga NGO shows a Brazilian Three banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus), aka Tatu-Bola in Portuguese. The Tatu-Bola was chosen as the mascot of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 and will be presented next September 16 during a television programme. AFP PHOTO/ Mark PAYNE-GILL/naturepl.com/A Caatinga RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO/ Mark PAYNE-GILL/naturepl.com/A Caatinga" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTSMark Payne-Gill/AFP/GettyImages

A man takes pictures of the mascot of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012. The mascot is a yet to-be-named Brazilian endangered armadillo. FIFA said Brazilians will have until mid-November to choose the mascot's name from three choices: Amijubi, Fuleco and Zuzeco. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

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A workers takes pictures of the armadillo, the mascot for the 2014 World Cup, during a visit by FIFA's secretary-general Jerome Valcke to the Magalhaes Pinto stadium, know as Mineirao, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on October 16, 2012. Less than two years before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, half of the 12 host stadiums are at least 50 percent completed -- being renovation or construction. AFP PHOTO/LIGHT PRESS/GUALTER NAVESGUALTER NAVES/AFP/Getty Images

The official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, Fuleco the Armadillo, is seen in a float of Leandro de Itaquera samba school during the first night of the Special Group of the annual Carnival parade in Sao Paulo's Sambadrome

The official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, Fuleco the Armadillo, is seen in a float of Leandro de Itaquera samba school during the first night of the Special Group of the annual Carnival parade in Sao Paulo's Sambadrome February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker (BRAZIL - Tags: SOCIETY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Employee makes toys of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, at a factory in Sao Bernardo do Campo

An employee makes toys of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, at a factory in Sao Bernardo do Campo February 27, 2014. The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil from June 12 through July 13. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker (BRAZIL - Tags: SPORT SOCCER BUSINESS WORLD CUP SOCIETY)

Employee works in front of newly made giant dolls of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, at a factory in Tianchang

An employee works in front of newly made giant dolls of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, at a factory in Tianchang, Anhui province January 6, 2014. The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil from June 12 through July 13. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Employees make stuffed toys of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, at a factory in Tianchang

Employees make stuffed toys of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup, at a factory in Tianchang, Anhui province January 6, 2014. The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil from June 12 through July 13. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

Employees make dolls of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil, at a factory in Tianchang

Employees make dolls of Fuleco the Armadillo, the official mascot of the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil, at a factory in Tianchang, Anhui province December 10, 2013. The 2014 World Cup finals will be held in Brazil from June 12 through July 13. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

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A inflatable puppet of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 mascot, a "tatu-bola" (armadillo) at Esplanada dos Ministerios in Brasilia, on September 24, 2012. The FIFA is running a contest on the internet to choose the name of the mascot between "Zuzeco", "Amijubi" or "Fuleco". AFP PHOTO/Evaristo SAEVARISTO SA/AFP/GettyImages

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FIFA's secretary-general, Jerome Valcke (R) and Brazil's Minister of Sports, Aldo Rebelo (L) walk behind the armadillo, the mascot for the 2014 World Cup, during a visit to the Beira Rio stadium, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on October 17, 2012. Less than two years before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, half of the 12 host stadiums are at least 50 percent completed -- being renovation or construction. AFP PHOTO/Jefferson BERNARDESJEFFERSON BERNARDES/AFP/Getty Images