Confederations Cup: Hermitage cat ‘fur-casts’ winners
A white cat named Achilles who normally keeps down mice at Saint Petersburg’s famed Hermitage museum has begun work as the official forecaster for the Confederations Cup hosted by Russia.
The cat — hired in a blaze of publicity — fastidiously chose between bowls of food decked with national flags on Thursday, picking between Australia and Cameroon which were to play later in the day.
Australia came first by a whisker after Achilles jumped onto the bowl.
He previously correctly predicted that Russia would beat New Zealand last week.
Known as Akhill, the Russian name for Greek mythological hero Achilles, he is one of some 50 feline guardians at the revered classical art museum and former tsarist Winter Palace.
The cats keep down vermin in exchange for lodgings in the cellar and have become a tourist attraction in their own right, featured on calendars. Staff periodically give away kittens with the sought-after Hermitage pedigree.
“We chose Akhill for this role due to his very sociable and stress-resistant nature,” said Maria Khaltunen, who is responsible for the museum’s cats.
The white-furred blue-eyed cat aged around one will not be suspectible to a quiet word from either side, since he is deaf, Khaltunen said.
“That means it’s impossible to attract his attention with some sound at the moment of choice,” she said.
The Confederations Cup is seen as testing Russa’s mettle as organiser for next year’s World Cup and includes some of the same popular razzmatazz.
The cat follows a long line of animal forecasters for popular sports events including a sheep, a guinea pig, a raccoon.
Most famously, Paul the psychic German octopus predicted all the results of the 2010 World Cup involving the German team as well as that of the final.
The Hermitage cats trace their history back to an order signed by Empress Elizabeth I in 1745 to find in the city of Kazan the “best and biggest 30 cats that are adept at catching mice and send them to her Majesty’s court in Saint Petersburg.”
The cats tragically all died during the Siege of Leningrad during World War II when the starving populace was forced to eat them.
They were replaced after the war, according to legend with a trainful of cats from all over the country.