Sportswear and fashion brand Lacoste, long associated with its iconic crocodile, was the first big name to sign up. Aware of the growing threat to various related species around the world, the company jumped at the chance to support a series of practical, scientific projects that will help preserve "their own heritage".
"The crocodile is part of our history and our identity; we have had a particular link for 80 years, so it was quite natural to subscribe to this operation," says Michel Lacoste, chairman of the firm and son of the founder Rene Lacoste, a former French tennis great. "The initiative is simple and effective, and if we can give back a little bit of what the crocodile has brought us, we should seize the opportunity to do so."
The latest step was to announce a project for the breeding and release of Chinese alligators in Anhui province. The species is threatened with extinction, mainly because of loss of its wetland habitat, with recent field surveys indicating there may be no more than 120 still surviving in the wild. Since 1996, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the species as critically endangered and been fighting what seemed like a losing battle. Now, though, with local input from Anhui Normal University and the necessary funding, the initiative will be able to provide new habitats and reintroduce animals bred in captivity to their natural environments.
Indeed, this is the fourth such project now benefiting from the company's involvement. The others, run along similar lines in co-operation with UNEP's specialist crocodile group, the IUCN and local experts, are to conserve the Ganges river gharial in Nepal, the Orinoco crocodile in Colombia, and the Florida alligator.
"We have started to see the results of the work done," says Lacoste, noting as an example two successful releases last year of 10 young gharial in rivers in the Chitwan and Bardia national parks in Nepal. "And we are already studying other projects."
In terms of financial commitment, the company has contributed more than US$1.5 million over the past three years towards preserving the different species, and has no doubt that this represents a sound investment.
"[We were] the first brand to embroider a logo on clothes in 1927, so it was natural to be the first to make a commitment to the `Save your logo' campaign," Lacoste says. "It allows companies and institutions to participate in the conservation of the biodiversity of our planet by protecting the animals used as logos for their brands."
As part of a bet, sportswear founder Rene Lacoste was promised an alligator suitcase if he won an important match for the French Davis Cup in the 1920s. When this made news, he was nicknamed "crocodile" in the United States press, a name that also seemed to match his tenacious playing style.