Russia’s football team has failed to chalk up a single victory in eight months but things could be about to improve – according to a supposedly clairvoyant cat who predicted a win for the side in the first World Cup match.
Achilles, a deaf white cat who is the official animal soothsayer for the tournament, on Wednesday chose a bowl of food bearing the host’s flag rather than that of Saudi Arabia, who Russia will face on Thursday evening.
The blue-eyed feline is usually part of a team of dozens of cats that guard Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage museum from rodents, but has taken on a new role for the football event.
“Achilles is already used to the public and shouldn’t be too stressed,” said vet Anna Kondratyeva, who manages the animals.
The cat follows in the tentacle-prints of Paul the Octopus who became a star in 2010 after predicting winners for that year’s World Cup by choosing one out of two boxes containing food.
Others have made a play to be the next Paul – including Swiss guinea pig Madame Shiva in 2014 and British Piranha Pele – but none quite had the mollusc’s foresight.
Earlier in the day the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill said he would pray for the national team to give a worthy performance.
The hosts, who take on Saudi Arabia in the Thursday curtain-raiser, need all the moral support they can get as they come into the event without a win in seven games.
The hazards of single-use plastic items, and what to use instead.
In June 2018, a distressed whale in Thailand made headlines around the world. After an autopsy it’s cause of death was determined to be more than 80 plastic bags it had ingested. The pictures caused great concern and brought into focus the urgency of the fight against single-use plastic. This term refers to use-and-throw plastic products that are designed for one-time use, such as takeaway spoons and forks, polythene bags styrofoam cups etc. In its report on single-use plastics, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described how single-use plastics have a far-reaching impact in the environment.
Dense quantity of plastic litter means sights such as the distressed whale in Thailand aren’t uncommon. Plastic products have been found in the airways and stomachs of hundreds of marine and land species. Plastic bags, especially, confuse turtles who mistake them for jellyfish - their food. They can even exacerbate health crises, such as a malarial outbreak, by clogging sewers and creating ideal conditions for vector-borne diseases to thrive. In 1988, poor drainage made worse by plastic clogging contributed to the devastating Bangladesh floods in which two-thirds of the country was submerged.
Plastic litter can, moreover, cause physiological harm. Burning plastic waste for cooking fuel and in open air pits releases harmful gases in the air, contributing to poor air quality especially in poorer countries where these practices are common. But plastic needn’t even be burned to cause physiological harm. The toxic chemical additives in the manufacturing process of plastics remain in animal tissue, which is then consumed by humans. These highly toxic and carcinogenic substances (benzene, styrene etc.) can cause damage to nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs.
The European Commission recently released a list of top 10 single-use plastic items that it plans to ban in the near future. These items are ubiquitous as trash across the world’s beaches, even the pristine, seemingly untouched ones. Some of them, such as styrofoam cups, take up to a 1,000 years to photodegrade (the breakdown of substances by exposure to UV and infrared rays from sunlight), disintegrating into microplastics, another health hazard.
More than 60 countries have introduced levies and bans to discourage the use of single-use plastics. Morocco and Rwanda have emerged as inspiring success stories of such policies. Rwanda, in fact, is now among the cleanest countries on Earth. In India, Maharashtra became the 18th state to effect a ban on disposable plastic items in March 2018. Now India plans to replicate the decision on a national level, aiming to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2022. While government efforts are important to encourage industries to redesign their production methods, individuals too can take steps to minimise their consumption, and littering, of single-use plastics. Most of these actions are low on effort, but can cause a significant reduction in plastic waste in the environment, if the return of Olive Ridley turtles to a Mumbai beach are anything to go by.
To know more about the single-use plastics problem, visit Planet or Plastic portal, National Geographic’s multi-year effort to raise awareness about the global plastic trash crisis. From microplastics in cosmetics to haunting art on plastic pollution, Planet or Plastic is a comprehensive resource on the problem. You can take the pledge to reduce your use of single-use plastics, here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of National Geographic, and not by the Scroll editorial team.