BEIJING - A team of Chinese baby pandas lined up to predict World Cup scores have been given the red card by authorities hours before kick off, the animals' keepers told AFP Thursday.
The pandas were billed by Chinese media as China's answer to deceased football soothsayer Paul the Octopus, after they were originally set to predict match results by picking food from a choice of baskets and by climbing trees.
But representatives at the pandas' breeding base in southwestern Sichuan province said the bears would not be given the chance to predict results at this year's tournament, which begins in São Paulo Thursday.
"The predictions have been halted by the authorities," said a spokesman at the China Centre for Research and Conservation of Giant Pandas, without elaborating.
State news agency Xinhua had previously said the pandas, who are aged between one and two years old, were to select food from three bamboo baskets representing either a win, loss or draw during the group stages.
For the knock-out rounds, the animals would select winners by climbing trees marked with the national flags of competing nations, it added.
China had hoped the pandas could match the worldwide fame achieved by Paul, the German octopus that correctly predicted the results of eight games at the 2010 World Cup.
Paul the Octopus, who used his tentacles to choose mussels or oysters from boxes bearing the flags of participating nations, died in October 2010, shortly after that year's World Cup in South Africa.
China has about 1,600 pandas living in the wild. They have a notoriously low reproductive rate and are under pressure from factors such as habitat loss in their home terrain of Sichuan, northern Shaanxi and northwestern Gansu provinces.