And the Winner is …


Animals with psychic powers have become a tradition at major football events. As football fans worldwide were passionately following the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the clairvoyant* cat Achilles was busy predicting the results of the matches using its “cat sense”.

A deaf, white, blue-eyed mouse hunter at Russia’s famous Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Achilles’ supposedly psychic abilities and record of correctly predicting the results of three out four matches during the FIFA Confederations Cup got it named the official animal oracle for the World Cup. It made its predictions by choosing between two bowls of food, each bearing a team’s flag; it made a perfect start to the World Cup by successfully predicting the winner of the first game.

Eight years ago, Achilles’ World Cup predecessor, Paul the Octopus had quickly become famous for his flawless record in predicting the outcomes of football matches. Its extraordinary psychic abilities made him the star of the 2010 World Cup in Germany as it correctly predicted the results of 12 out of 14 football matches, ultimately picking Spain as the champion. Paul communicated its insights by selecting between two glass boxes of mussels, each decorated with the flag of one of the competing nations.

Since the Octopus passed away in October 2010, other species have emerged to claim its talent in picking winners, catching the attention of football fans; perhaps for their novelty, rather than the accuracy of the results. During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, several imitators tried to recreate Paul’s extraordinary success as zoos and wildlife centers across the world unveiled their own “psychic” animals. A guinea pig named Madame Shiva, and a piranha named Pele, were considered as potential oracles; however, both lacked the foresight and aptitude shown by Paul to make it a worldwide sensation.

Achilles is the latest animal hoping to carve out a niche as a World Cup oracle following the breakout success of Paul the Octopus. Similar to major athletes involved in the 2018 World Cup, including Mohamed Salah, Leo Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, Achilles underwent a strict diet and exercise to get in shape for the tournament. Anna Kondratyeva, the Hermitage’s veterinarian, said that “People tend to feed him more than they should. When he came to us, he looked like a football, not a cat, so we decided to put him on a strict diet”. Additionally, Achilles received intense training in “intuition skills” and went through an adaptation process in preparation for the World Cup.

The existence of psychic abilities as clairvoyance is neither supported nor accepted by the scientific community; even parapsychology, including the study of clairvoyance, is regarded as pseudoscience. However, animals with psychic powers are deeply rooted in history; in ancient Egypt, for example, cats were revered and considered godlike. They have always been considered magical and several people believe in their psychic abilities; for example, they can detect natural disasters at a geographical distance before their occurrences. They warn people that something bad is about to happen by a flight-or-fight response; their ears point backward and their hair stands on end with no enemy in sight. They will also cry and howl without a clear reason.

Scientists have attempted for decades, to study psychic abilities in animals. One of the pioneers in this field is Joseph Banks Rhine (1895–1980), who is acknowledged as the “Father of Modern Parapsychology.” He is an American botanist who founded parapsychology as a branch of psychology and came up with the term Extrasensory Perception (ESP). He and his wife, Dr. Louisa E. Rhine, investigated the existence of psychic abilities in animals as part of their research; the results were encouraging as millions of people were convinced by the existence of ESP.

As researchers continue to attempt to prove, or disapprove, clairvoyance using scientific methods, there are surprising stories about animals that sense things in a way that cannot be explained yet, such as “World Cup Animal Oracles” and their accurate predictions of sporting events. Although oracle animals have to choose from two options only, their predictions will remain surprising and amusing, but not as extremely improbable as they may seem to football fans.


Clairvoyant from French literally means “one who sees clearly”; clairvoyance is the ability to see things with full perspective, which includes the past, present and the potential future.


This article was published in SCIplanetSummer 2018 Issue "Science and Sports".

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