IT started with Paul, an ordinary octopus who garnered worldwide attention after spending the summer of 2010 correctly predicting the results of Germany’s eight World Cup matches.
Inspired by Paul’s success thousands of animals across Germany, from elephants to pythons, are now working the pundits’ circuit and forecasting the results of Euro 2012.
Appearing on home videos posted on the Internet, television and radio shows, alpacas, bulldogs and even a Magalitza pig are under pressure to predict the tournament’s outcome.
But Germany’s animal rights activists have called on pet owners to think twice before parading their animals as sporting forecasters, saying the national phenomenon — which is now spreading around the world — is spiralling out of control.
The Deutscher Tierschutzbund (TSB), or Animal Protection Union, has said that many animals are being exploited, forced to do things that are unnatural to them, and suffering as a result of what it calls a ‘craze’.
It cites an Internet radio station which filmed a python called Ado being offered the choice of two live rats, one with a stripe which stood for Germany; another without, representing Portugal.
The snake latched its jaws around the rat representing Portugal and ate it, meaning, according to the radio station, that Portugal would win the championship. Despite the fact that the python was obviously wrong, and no animal appears to have come even close to matching the accuracy of Paul, the number of animals now being employed as soccer psychics is on the rise.
Marius Tunte of the TSB said: “There’s hardly an animal that’s not being used. From pigs and parrots to hamsters to dogs, everyone’s at it. We’ve got elephants kicking balls into nets, or forced to do handstands, chimpanzees dressed up and paraded on TV. In many cases the dignity of the animals is being completely ignored, and they’re being forced to do things that are totally unnatural to them and in some cases are causing them to suffer.”
He said zoos and animal parks have also joined in after realising the amount of positive publicity such oracles can generate. Paul the octopus drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to his hitherto little-known aquarium in Oberhausen in western Germany.“It’s not just during the tournament, but afterwards as well, when people say: ‘let’s go to see that animal that everyone’s been talking about’,” he said, adding that the trend had its origins in the era of Knut, a prized polar bear at Berlin Zoo who was saved from death as a newborn cub in 2006 and went on to become the most celebrated and highest grossing animal in the world.
Among the most engaging, though hardly reliable pundits are Xaver the bulldog, who, predictably, chose German sausages over a bottle of Portuguese red wine; a pair of otters called Mormel and Ferret; and a goat called Traudl, who is under contract at a Bavarian radio station.
Tunte welcomed a satirical take on the mania by Die Welt, which imagined a scenario where dogs who had made false predictions were abandoned at autobahn service stations by their disgusted owners, while failed pigs and parrots were sent for slaughter or stuffed and offered for sale on eBay.
“It’s not far from the truth and shows just how out of hand it has got,” he said.
Experts say the animal oracles served a wider purpose by giving people a sense of security and a feeling that they are in control of an unpredictable situation. “It helps them escape from the everyday,” Tunte said. — The Guardian, London