Russia has spent close to £20 billion in preparations for the 2018 World Cup to ensure their sporting infrastructure is up to standard and their host cities are ready for the impending onslaught of football fans, however some plans don’t cost a penny. The nation has assembled a crew of animal oracles, set to predict the FIFA winners and losers.
One-year-old Achilles’s sociable character and unflappable nature suggested to Hermitage staff that he was a strong candidate for the role, along with his unusual behaviours and capability for analysis. The blue-eyed, white short haired is also deaf, meaning his attention will be hard to grab at the crucial moments.
Joining Achilles is Nika, the two-year old polar bear, rescued in the Far East village of Ryrkaipiy, Chukotka. According to locals, the then eight-month old cub became lost on her migration route, after loosing her mother to poachers. Injured, Nika took shelter under a local’s house who, upon discovering her, fed the orphan fish until the WWF Polar Bear Patrol, Moscow Zoo and the Russian Military rescued her.
Now a healthy and vivacious resident in the Moscow Zoo rescue centre, her carer, Aleksander Igorov, noticed Nika was able to sense when visitors would arrive for her and she would hide or wait to greet them accordingly. Likewise, Igorov says the bear can sense when new football balls are coming her way – one of Nika’s favourite toys. Football obsessed, she loves the balls so much she swims with them and sometimes uses them as a pillow when sleeping.
Her love of football led to the Confederations Cup also employing Nika as a match psychic, where she incorrectly predicted Mexico’s win over Portugal (although it was a draw), and correctly predicted Germany defeat of Australia.
Achilles had better luck with his predictions, correctly asserting Russia would beat New Zealand and Australia would defeat Camaroon. His forecasts earned praise from government officials and secured his return to duties for the 2018 World Cup.
Both Achilles and Nika predict the winners by choosing between two bowls of food, each donning a competing nation’s flag.
Many countries employ animal oracles for sporting events and the Achilles the Hermitage Cat and Nika the Polar Bear join a guinea pig, a sheep, a racoon, and Paul the Octopus in holding the esteemed position.