May 26, 2010

Lacoste Supports Icon That Made It Famous

Michael Lacoste, the heir of the French clothing giant known for its iconic crocodile logo, traveled to Colombia recently to meet with an endangered baby Orinoco crocodile that was raised in captivity.

The crocodile, when fully matured, measures up to 23 feet and can trace its origins back to the drainage basin of the Orinoco River that flows through Colombia and Venezuela.

The carnivore has 68 teeth and gray-yellow skin to scare off villagers.  However, its survival is essential to preserve the region's fragile ecosystem.

Lacoste was the first international brand to support Save Your Logo, a campaign launched in October 2008 with the help of Global Environment Facility, the World Bank and the International Union for Conservation.

The Lacoste brand has pledged $189,000 over three years to help safeguard and protect the endangered crocodile, mostly through a census of the population.

The company, which was founded by tennis champion Rene Lacoste, has vowed to support other conservation projects as well.

"My father was nicknamed 'the crocodile' when he played tennis. And if we can give back a little bit of everything the crocodile has brought us, we should seize the opportunity to do so," Michel Lacoste told AFP.

He said the move was not a marketing ploy but an opportunity to demonstrate citizen responsibility.

"We are not going to put mounted crocodiles in each storefront," Lacoste said ironically.

Lacoste has embroidered crocodiles on its shirts and other garments for the last 75 years.

The Orinoco crocodile became a symbol for Columbia, one of the top 10 countries in terms of biodiversity. 

"He's at the top of the chain" of the ecosystem in the Orinoco River and its tributaries, reptile expert Willington Martinez told AFP.

The crocodile is the biggest predator of the region and helps to regulate the population of many species, including amphibians and smaller caimans.

"When it's around, the rivers have a lot more fish," Martinez said.

A large number of crocodiles were still left in the 1960s and leather craftsmen prized the reptile because of their soft skin.

"In Colombia, we used to sell a thousand skins a day," Martinez, a scientist dealing with crocodile preservation at the Roberto Franco de Villavicencio tropical biology center, told AFP.

However, after years of intensive hunting and deforestation, seeing one of these beasts in the wild now is a rare sight.

According to study from 2000, only about 100 of the prized crocodiles were found.

Groups like Spain's Chelonia are now trying to make a census of the crocodile population, which is a species considered "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Ten couples have given birth in captivity to about 500 crocodiles since the early 1990s.

However, once Chelonia - a recipient of Lacoste's funding - completes its study, scientists face the tough task of convincing locals to accept the return of the big predators.

"People still see them as a threat. They say crocodiles chase their boats," Martinez explained to AFP, pointing to the need to educate locals and explain that only females will be released to protect their territory.

Chelonia hopes that reintroducing the species will also attract ecotourists and help provide jobs for fisherman by enriching the region's marine wildlife.

Companies can donate up to $1.8 million over three years under the Save Your Logo scheme.


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