It’s Groundhog Day today and in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a woodchuck named Phil is about to give his annual weather forecast. That’s probably not the most bizarre thing you’ve ever read about on IFLScience, but it’s also an event that doesn’t go down well with animal rights organization PETA, which has once again called for the tradition to end.
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, a groundhog’s weather prediction is no more accurate than flipping a coin… [Punxsutawney Phil] is not a meteorologist and deserves better than to be exploited every year for tourism money,” said the organization in a statement.
If you weren’t previously aware of the Punxsutawney Phil lore, let us fill you in. Since 1886, every February 2nd sees the Inner Circle of Punxsutawney’s Groundhog Club hold a ceremony at Gobbler’s Knob (stop it), home to Phil the groundhog.
If Phil comes out of the burrow and sees his shadow, that allegedly means there’ll be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, then supposedly there’ll be an early spring. It’s claimed that Phil communicates all this with the president of the Inner Circle, who can apparently speak “Groundhogese”.
It’s not just PETA that’s called out Punxsutawney Phil’s suspected lack of meteorology qualifications. According to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information, the famed woodchuck’s predictions over the last 10 years have only been 30 percent accurate.
But it’s not just about whether or not the predictions are right. For several years now, PETA have campaigned for Phil to be freed from his duties, stating that the tradition amounts to animal cruelty.
“For more than a century, The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club has exploited a groundhog on February 2 – when they’d naturally be in hibernation – and pretended that they’re giving a weather forecast," said PETA. "Phil is an individual who, although intelligent and self-aware, can’t predict the weather. Even if he could, keeping him or any other animal imprisoned for a cruel annual gimmick is abusive.”
Instead, PETA has suggested a number of alternatives for predicting the weather. These have ranged from replacing Phil with a coin flip to offering up a human volunteer to live in captivity. Back in 2020, it also put forward the idea of an animatronic groundhog that could more accurately predict the weather using artificial intelligence.
That would certainly make for an interesting development in the robot uprising.