Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring on Groundhog Day 2011
Punxsutawney Phil, America's favorite groundhog, predicted an early spring when he failed to see his shadow Wednesday morning at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa.
Early spring predictions are rare for Phil. But Mike Johnston, vice president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, insisted that the groundhog's failure to see his shadow was based solely on his accurate foreknowledge of weather trends. Reuters reported Wednesday:
Johnston said the latest prognostication will be entirely accurate, and does not reflect any desire on Phil's part to cheer up Americans who are suffering through a grueling winter.
"There is no question that Phil is capable of feeling empathy," Johnston said in an interview. "But he is absolutely incapable of error."
Others doubt Phil's infallibility, however. And his record of accuracy isn't the only controversy that has surrounded the groundhog in recent years: In 2010, PETA protested the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's continued reliance on Phil as a weather predictor/tourist attraction and asked the group to move him to a sanctuary and replace him with an animatronic groundhog replica.
Phil is "forced to be on display year round at the local library and is denied the ability to prepare for and enter yearly hibernation," PETA's animals in entertainment specialist Gemma Vaughan wrote in a letter to Groundhog Club President William Deeley. Vaughan noted that groundhogs are typically shy creatures and the throng of spectators and bright camera flashes at the annual Gobbler's Knob festivities are likely to cause little Phil undue stress.
Deeley, however, scoffed at the notion that Phil was unhappy, telling the Associated Press that he is "treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania" and is subject to annual inspections by Pennsylvania's agriculture department to ensure his well-being. (Plus, according to the Groundhog Club, the rodent receives a sip of a special "groundhog punch" -- an elixir with a secret recipe that extends his life by seven years -- every summer.)
But Phil's actions may have spoken for themselves a few years back, when he made several daring attempts to escape his den at the Punxsutawney Library.
Does Phil look anxious? See for yourself in the video below:
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-- Lindsay Barnett
Photo: Phil is placed on his stump during Groundhog Day festivities in Gobbler's Knob on Feb. 2. Credit: Keith Srakocic / Associated Press
Video: Associated Press