With Groundhog Day just a few hours away, eyes turn toward Gobbler's Knob in Pennsylvania. Tuesday, Punxsutawney Phil will waddle from his hole, look for his shadow, and announce whether winter will tighten its grasp or step aside for Spring.
But this year, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) thinks it's time for the nation's hairiest weatherman to enjoy an early retirement. PETA's proposal: instead of parading and manhandling the wee groundhog, replace ol' Phil with a robot.
It's time to consider "retiring Phil to a sanctuary and replacing him with an electronic groundhog," says the official PETA blog. "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.... Add to that the displeasure of large, screaming crowds, flashing lights of cameras, and human handling."
Animatronics have come a long way – last year, the Horizons blog even joked that President Obama should consider a robot dog. Rather than look for its shadow, an iPhil could analyze the latest weather patterns, perhaps even project how global warning might permanently usher in an early Spring.
Yet, won't a Phil-bot lack the cuddly charm of a real groundhog?
One PETA commenter thought so: "I think retiring Phil is not the best idea. Is living at a library with children who love him and show him affection that horrible?" asks Adam in response to the post. "He would suffer more hardship back in the wild then continuing what he has been doing his whole life. Also when you say screaming crowds, who is screaming? He's not Bono."
The Altoona (Penn.) Mirror, located 90 minutes southeast of Punxsutawney, ran an editorial today denouncing the proposed robot outsourcing. "We agree with William Deeley, president of the Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, who said Phil is 'being treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania.' Indeed, Phil is treated like a king, surely the envy of all of his fellow groundhogs."
PETA's animals-in-entertainment specialist, Gemma Vaughan, wrote to Mr. Deeley that "These normally shy animals -- who are constantly on alert when they are out of their burrows -- become stressed when they are exposed to large, screaming crowds; flashing lights from perhaps hundreds of cameras; and human handling.... Other popular exhibitions have featured robotic penguins and dolphins who swim and communicate just like real animals do, and we think that an animatronic groundhog would similarly mesmerize a crowd full of curious spectators in Punxsutawney."
Another commenter, Bri, supported PETA's idea, saying that "I think it is a good idea to retire Phil. Yeah, sure he is living a great life, but that life was not naturally meant to be for him. It would be like keeping a bear in your house to keep as a pet, when it should be in the wild. Phil is not a domesticated animal. He is a groundhog. Living with humans is not natural to a wild animal."
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below. And follow us on Twitter.