Chief Executive’s Blog

June 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

The world cup in Brazil is dominating media headlines at the moment, even getting mention on a conservation level. Conservationists in Brazil have challenged football’s governing body Fifa to do more to protect the animal that inspired the summer’s World Cup mascot; the Brazilian three-banded armadillo.

Listed as vulnerable, the species is the basis of the Fuleco mascot that features on merchandise and souvenirs. Conservationists have rightly been calling for parts of the armadillo’s dry forest habitat to be designated as protected areas and the government has met with scientists to discuss drawing up a conservation plan.

In the most recent Brazilian list of endangered species the three-banded armadillo moved from vulnerable to in-danger. Suffering from habitat loss, the species is also hunted and its distinctive shell used in the tourism trade.

Dillon - Southern three-banded armadillo

Dillon – Southern three-banded armadillo

There are actually 11 armadillo species found in Brazil and at Edinburgh Zoo we have another species very similar to the three-banded armadillo that inspired the mascot – the Southern three-banded armadillo. This species can be found in south-western Brazil and also in Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Edinburgh Zoo’s three three-banded armadillos are part of our presentations team. Dillon, a long standing resident of Edinburgh Zoo for the last ten years, and the recently arrived Rio and Rhodar, who it is hoped will go onto breed when they are older, are fantastic ambassadors for the armadillo family.

Dillon is part of our hilltop show Animal Antics that takes place daily at 12.15am in the hilltop arena during the warmer months. The event showcases animal’s natural behaviour and abilities. The animals vary between shows, as we work solely with animals that are willing to be involved, but when Dillon takes centre stage he gives us a great chance to explain about three-banded armadillos and the threats they face. It is also a great opportunity to share and highlight the work RZSS does in the Pantanal in Brazil.

A long term project dedicated to giant armadillos, it is a partnership between RZSS, a Brazilian NGO (IPÊ – Institute for Ecological Research), and a private cattle ranch (Baía das Pedras). The team is led by Arnaud Desbiez, Latin American coordinator for RZSS.

Photo by Kevin Schafer

Photo by Kevin Schafer

The giant armadillo could scarily go locally extinct without anyone even knowing and we are proud to be helping to understand the previously unknown natural history and ecological role of this ancient species so that the world does not lose it. It is incredible to think that in our study area in the Pantanal, many of the local people, some of them living in the area for their whole lives, have never even seen these animals.

Giant armadillos can reach up to 150cm and weigh up to 50 kilograms and one of their most striking features are large scimitar-shaped fore claws. The species is highly fossorial, nocturnal and most of the information previously available was anecdotal due to the animal’s cryptic behaviour and low population density. Although their distribution is widespread, as they range through much of South America, their habitats are diverse (from tropical forests to open savannahs) and their population density extremely sparse.

Since July 2010, the Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project has successfully established a long-term ecological study of giant armadillos at the Baía das Pedras Ranch in the Nhecolândia sub-region of the Brazilian Pantanal (visit The main goal of the project is to investigate the ecology and biology of the species and understand its function in the ecosystem using radio transmitters, camera traps, burrow surveys, resource monitoring, resource mapping and interviews.

Giant Armadillo Baby by Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

Giant Armadillo Baby by Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project

During the course of our international research programme, I am extremely proud to say we have made many first discoveries, including: photographing a giant armadillo for the first time, capturing a camera trap image and then recording data on an armadillo young (nicknamed Alex) from birth to dispersal age, discovering that giant armadillos are actually ecosystem engineers – giving free housing and shelters to others via their large burrows – showing their important role in the ecological system.

What I sincerely hope is that the Brazilian World Cup mascot will raise the profile of the armadillo species as the whole and drastically reduce the threat and distinct possibility that many of this family of animal will not be on our world in the future.


Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock.

Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history. Let us hope that we are still in the early morning of our April day. 

~Stephen Jay Gould, “Our Allotted Lifetimes,” The Panda’s Thumb, 1980


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