BEIJING - A crack team of baby pandas will be used to predict World Cup scores, according to reports, in a Chinese answer to deceased football soothsayer Paul the Octopus.
The cuddly creatures will predict match winners by picking food from a choice of baskets and by climbing trees at China's foremost panda breeding base in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday.
China hopes the bears will be odds-on to match the worldwide fame achieved by Paul, the German octopus which correctly predicted the results of several games at the 2010 World Cup using its tentacles.
During the group stages in Brazil this month, pandas aged between one and two years old will select food from three bamboo baskets representing either a win, loss or draw, Xinhua said.
For the knock-out rounds, the animals will select winners by climbing trees marked with the national flags of competing nations, it added.
They will have to go a long way to beat Paul the tentacled oracle, however, which successfully predicted the outcome of eight matches by choosing a mussel or oyster from one of two boxes bearing the flags of participating nations.
The octopus died in October 2010, not long after that year's World Cup in South Africa. Its success spawned "psychic" imitators for Euro 2012 including a pig, an Indian elephant and a raccoon.
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.