PETA requests Punxsutawney Phil to be replaced with robot

It is an annual tradition on February 2: Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his burrow, and if he sees his shadow, he has predicted six more weeks of winter.

One animal advocacy group is calling for an alteration to this Groundhog Day tradition.

Groundhog Club co-handler John Griffiths co-handler Al Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 133rd celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Phil’s handlers said that the groundhog has forecast an early spring. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club requesting that the groundhog should be replaced with a robot.

The letter signed by PETA President Ingrid Newkirk earlier this week says that the spotlight on Phil causes the animal stress.

“As a prey species, groundhogs actively avoid humans. Being in close proximity to the public causes these animals great stress,” Newkirk wrote. “When Phil is dragged out of his hole and held up to flashing lights and crowds, he has no idea what’s happening. Being relegated to a library ‘habitat’ for the other days of the year doesn’t allow him or the other groundhog there to dig, burrow, or forage.”

Newkirk suggested using technology to replace Phil.

Related: North Carolina town ends New Year’s Eve Possum Drop tradition 

“Using technologically advanced electromechanical devices such as animatronics instead of live animals is more popular than ever,” Newkirk said. “We even have the technology to create an animatronic groundhog with artificial intelligence (AI) that could actually predict the weather. An AI Phil would renew interest in Punxsutawney, generating a great deal of buzz.”

Phil Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, told the Punxsutawney Spirt, “Phil lives better than the average child in Western Pennsylvania.”

“If we were going to use an animatronic groundhog, that’s not what people want to see,” Deeley told the Spirit. “They want to see Phil himself. People across the country, and in some cases those traveling from other countries, come to see the real Phil on Groundhog Day.”

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