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How does the Ball get into the Cage?

Zoo Marketing harnessing the FIFA World Cup

Southern three-banded armadillo (photo: elajos)The world’s attention turns to soccer in June and July every fourth year. Even many of those who otherwise are not interested in this sport, observe it during this time. This is the reason why the World Cups have been offering such a marketing opportunity in the past decades that zoos also have taken to exploit. The 20th World Cup is in full swing in Brazil these weeks and it is also connected to the world of zoos in many ways, so we cannot ignore it either.

We could meet a lot of popular favourites in connection with the Brazilian World Cup even before its start, it is enough to mention the former football stars Pelé or Ronaldo who have made several media appearances during the organization stage. However, Fuleco, the mascot of the World Cup, is even more interesting for us than them.

Fuleco (source: Wikipedia)The mascot was officially introduced on 16th September, 2012. It wears the colours of Brazil’s flag (blue, yellow and green) and it has been modelled after a Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus). This species is indigenous to the arid bush habitats of Eastern Brazil. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) its status is Vulnerable and its population continues to show a decreasing trend. The armadillos’ existence is threatened by the hunting for their meat on one hand and the loss of their habitat on the other hand. Their habitat is increasingly being turned into cultivated land, the natural communities being replaced by sugarcane and soy plantations.

The mascot of the Brazilian World Cup owes its name partially to its conservation status. It bears the name Fuleco that was composed of the words ’futebol’ (football) and ’ecologia’ (ecology). ’Football’ offers itself from the World Cup, furthermore, this species is one of the representatives of the order Cingulata that are able to roll up completely if threatened, so their shape resembles a ball. The word ’ecology’ wishes to draw attention to the fact that this species, along with many other animal and plant species and habitats of Brazil, is being threatened by human activity. So, the mascot of this year’s World Cup bears the message of environmental and nature conservation besides propagating sport.

This is why this mascot is significant from our aspect, too. Brazil is one of the most outstanding areas of our planet in terms of biodiversity since it is one of the most species-rich countries, for example, the number of mammal species living there is 400 or so. However, it is also true that Brazil’s natural environment is one of those being the most rapidly destroyed. Thus, it is important that a world event of such a great interest helps get the message of nature and environmental conservation, the factors threatening the species living there, and the protection of species, reach as many people as possible. A loveable mascot offers the perfect opportunity for this.

Southern three-banded armadillo (photo: elajos)This loveable mascot also offers an excellent opportunity for zoos to connect their marketing to the World Cup. This is true even if only 3 specimens of Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) are being kept in two institutions throughout the world, based on the register of ISIS. The other species of the genus Tolypeutes, the Southern three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes matacus) can be seen more often, according to the ISIS register 225 specimens are living in 102 zoos. The World Cup means a little extra spotlight for them, since a lot of zoos harness the great interest in the sport event with the help of their Southern three-banded armadillos. Not only those zoos that keep Southern three-banded armadillos try to get into the center of attention by means of the World Cup – a lot of zoos feature other armadillo species in their marketing (e.g.: big hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus villosus) or six-banded armadillo (Euphractus sexcinctus)).

However, not only mascots hold the potential to exploit the great popularity of the World Championship. An increasing number of zoos have their animals predict the outcome of certain matches. The first of the animals to become popular this way was the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) living in the Sea Life Center, Oberhausen, Germany during the 2010 World Cup, specifically by correctly forecasting the outcome of eight matches. Paul did the same job before during the 2008 UEFA European Championship, then he managed to choose the winner of five matches out of six. Several studies have been carried out with octopuses since then to find a scientific explanation to Paul’s exceptional ’divining ability’, but no convincing evidence could be found. It seems to be certain that octopuses are colourblind so the colours of the flags could not have influenced Paul’s choices.

The following sports events saw the appearance of more and more animals by which the zoos wished to predict the results of matches. The current World Cup is not different either, moreover, interest and the number of ’divining’ animals is perhaps bigger this year than ever before. We could see an African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) getting the ball into the goal, a dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) tearing flags, a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) eating fish from under flags, and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and South American tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) playing with balls – the list is getting ever longer. All of the above is combined the most perfectly by Alwetterzoo of Münster where a Southern three-banded armadillo predicts the outcome of the matches of the German national football team.

As for the zoos of the countries participating in the World Championship, virtually any species offer opportunities for a little extra marketing. All they have to do is to place a football as environmental enrichment into the enclosure of a popular species and wait for soccer fans to visit them while the World Cup is in progress.

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