Sukari, a 7-year-old from Reston, can smell a winner -- well enough to win $1,000 in a televised football pool. But with a nose like hers, it's no wonder.
Gracefully extending her long, sensitive snout, the elephant sniffs, feels and eventually picks up National Football League team helmets to indicate her choices in upcoming games.
Her record of 10 wins and four losses on the weekend of Sept. 23 was the best single-week record of the season in WUSA-TV's annual celebrity prognostication contest.
One of the stars of the Pet-a-Pet Farm Park, Sukari defeated a pack of other mammals, including Larry King, Julia Child, Pat Boone and Donny Osmond. But petting farm owner Robert D. Johnson discounts the idea that Sukari's trunk gave her an unfair advantage.
"It's all in the mind," Johnson said.
"She studies the helmets -- the colors, the striping," before making her predictions.
"We have to tell her the names," he conceded.
The decision to put a pachyderm in the pigskin prediction business came from television sportscaster Glenn Brenner.
"The idea was to get people who you wouldn't normally associate with this kind of thing," he said.
Noting that fellow Channel 9 sportscaster Sonny Jurgensen, a former Redskin, often gets only half of his picks right, Brenner added, "This tells you that it's basically luck."
Johnson might differ with that proposition. He notes that last year's contest winner also was female: a 90-year-old nun.
Patting Sukari's forehead yesterday in the park's elephant house, Johnson said, "It's all brain here. She's not stupid."
As if on cue, Sukari immediately poked her snout into fresh blue paint on the wall of her enclosure.
Like other 7-year-olds, Sukari likes to watch television. The 3,400-pound African elephant was particularly interested in a videotape of her performance on Channel 9.
She'll also watch football games now and again, Johnson says.
The $1,000 prize money would buy a lot of hay, but instead it will go to charity, and Sukari won't have to worry about filling out tax forms this spring.
Johnson said the World Wildlife Fund and a local program for abused children will be the beneficiaries.
There may be a reward for Sukari as well. Johnson said he's thinking of taking her to Florida next winter, because "she doesn't like the cold."
The park is open only during mild weather.
Sukari isn't too fond of the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Atlanta Falcons by 6 points to hand her one of her few wrong picks in September.
In response to an inquiry, the elephant's outstretched trunk seemed to point in Washington's direction on the eve of this afternoon's playoff game.
But don't try to bet with her, Johnson warned. She plays for peanuts.