Friday, 30 July 2010

Symbols of the Tribe

It seems to be human nature to associate oneself with an animal. The earliest cave paintings were, it has been suggested, attempts to absorb the spirits of mammoths and bison. Later, the Roman legions marched behind eagles, whilst for the ancient Babylonians and Greeks the lion was the symbol of kingship. In more modern times the British lion battled the eagles and bears of the Kaisers and Tsars in cartoons across Europe.
In what strenuously contrived manner can this be connected to modern day Brazil, and it's wildlife? Well, many of the human population again organise themselves into tribes and clans, in this day and age based on loyalty to their local football teams. And these have mascots. Can the mascots of the Brazilian first division tell us anything about the world around them?

The first mascot of the Rio team Botafogo was Donald duck, their second, following copyright issues with Disney, was the Manequinho, a replica of the boy, er, relieving himself, in Brussels. This probably says something deep about the psychology of Botofogo, but I'm not sure exactly what.
Moving on, we again find the lion, for Avai of Santa Catarina (above), and Vitoria of Bahia. Not native to South America of course, but neither is it native to Britain so we'll let them off. Anyway, Atl├ętico Goianiense have a dragon. The eagle resurfaces in the form of the Gaviao or falcon. Corinthians of Sao Paulo have a supporters club known as the Faithful Falcons.

More prosaically, Atletico mineiro, of Minas gerais, have a rooster, or fighting cock (as do Tottenham in London of course). This works particularly well for them as not only do these birds symbolise aggression and a never-surrender spirit, but the commonest breed of domestic chicken in the region has black and white feathers, matching the team colours.

Colour is probably the reason for several choices of mascots. For instance Palmeiras , of Sao Paulo, and Goias, of central Brazil, both play in green and have green parrots as their symbols. These social, noisy birds are a common feature of rural Sao Paulo. Actually, Palmeiras have adopted another animal. Their Sao Paulo rivals would often refer to them as pigs, due to a perceived "espirito do porco" or lack of seriousness. Palmerians now yell "porco" as a war cry.

Santos, the port of Sao Paulo, have chosen the killer whale, Orcinus orca. To be absolutely honest, killer whales are not a regular feature of the Sao Paulo maritime scene, but they do occasionally appear working their way up the South American coast.

Cruzeiro, of Minas gerais, have a fox. Implausibly, arch rivals Cruzeiro and Atletico mineiro above both hired the cartoonist Mangabeira to assign their mascots in the 1940s. The fox was reportedly based on the then chairman of Cruzeiro, who was "sly, celver and intelligent, and never let anyone trick him, just like a fox". A somewhat backhanded compliment, but enthusiastically adopted. The mascot is often portrayed as a European red fox, but does sometimes seem to be based on the local grey/brown native crab eating fox, Cerdocyon thous.

It is noticeable that most of the mascots here are not especially Brazilian. This is perhaps understandable, the big clubs tend to be in big cities (in the case of Rio and Sao Paulo, VERY big cities) and so there isn't much contact with local wildlife. Many were also started by immigrants fresh from Europe. It is when one starts to look at smaller cities of the interior, with more of an agricultural past, that native animals start to appear. Surprisingly, there are very few examples of the jaguar (Panthera onca), but Resende, near Rio, has the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachurus), and Cascavel, of Parana, has the eponymous cascavel (Crotalus diurissus), an extremely dangerous rattlesnake.
What then would I recommend as a mascot for success? A lion? An eagle? A fox? Actually no, a vulture. Flamengo, the largest club in Brazil and current champions have adopted the Urubu, or Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura), as their symbol. After all, at the end of the day, it's always the vultures who feast after any battle.

Sunday, 25 July 2010


A little of the beaten track for this blog - a field trip to the Canadian Great lakes and up the St Lawrence river to Quebec. Firstly, it was hot! Around 35 for much of the trip, which contrasts sharply with lows of -40 during the winter! A major challenge for local wildlife. Away from the cities there are huge stretches of deciduous woodland, much of it marshy, crossed by many rivers. These range from huge, slow moving waterways such as the St. Lawrence, to shallow rapids, to powerful torrents through rocky gorges, such as the famous Niagara below.

In cities such as Montreal and Ottawa the most obvious wildlife are, of course, sparrows and pigeons. I can't help thinking why?? How do these species flourish in Trafalgar square, Northern America and (in the case of pigeons) the beaches of Rio? Obviously they are tied to human habitation, but they don't have the environmental protections humans have, let alone the chance to don a scarf or swimming trunks. Yet they seem to do ok.
Cities and towns are fairly rare in Canada though, most of the country is agricultural or forested.

And of course there are migrants, such as myself. One common species being the accurately, if boringly, named Red winged blackbird. The photo here is a male, the females are quite brown and dowdy, as are juveniles. Rwbs fly north to breed and eat seeds and the abundant insect life, before returning to the southern US for the winter. Apparently, most of the native American names for the RWB have exactly the same meaning, it just seems to be what people notice.

Anyway, more indigenous wildlife includes deer and moose in the woods, at least evidenced by road signs warning drivers of their presence. By the same principle, Canada's seas contain Killer whales, according to this totem in the excellent Museum of Civilisation in Ottawa.

Next time, back to nice cold Brazil!

Friday, 9 July 2010


Natureza has migrated north to Montreal, which is considerably hotter than Rio at the moment. Back in a few weeks.