Groundhog Day is an annual celebration in Canada and the US, with real groundhogs being used to “predict” whether or not spring will arrive early, in a superstition dating back to the 1840s. In modern times, each year on February 2, naturally shy groundhogs are woken up early from their winter slumber and trotted out before a cheering crowd. It’s a stressful experience for these wild animals, who may flee or fight back in a panic, like in 2015 when a groundhog bit the Wisconsin mayor’s ear, or in 2014 when New York City’s mayor dropped the groundhog, who tragically died a few days later.
In Canada, Wiarton Willie is perhaps the most well-known animal used at an annual event, with a new captive animal in Wiarton, Ontario taking up the name after each one dies. But the celebration takes place in other towns across the country as well, including Balzac in Alberta, Shubenacadie in Nova Scotia, Val-d’Espoir in Quebec, and elsewhere. In many towns, the groundhogs spend most of their lives in tiny enclosures. Some towns display their mascot animals year-round in roadside zoos or museum exhibits, which is an unnatural and stressful experience for the timid marmots.
In the wild, groundhogs are considered crucial habitat engineers. They are known to be extremely intelligent and form complex social networks. Groundhogs understand social behavior, form kinship with their children, whistle to communicate threats to their community, and work cooperatively to solve tasks. Sometimes called the “land beaver”, their intricate burrow systems play an important role in maintaining healthy habitats. The groundhogs kept in captivity to be used as annual props are unable to dig, play, or socialize with their families.
@animaljusticeofficial Did you know? Groundhog Day is cruel to animals 💔 #groundhogday #wiartonwillie #ontario #canada #animalrights #didyouknow ♬ LoFi Hip Hop with an urban feel(837632) – akito misaki
Groundhog Day celebrations involving real animals aren’t kind or compassionate, and there are many other ways to celebrate the arrival of spring. Instead of attending a Groundhog Day festival, try setting goals for the upcoming season, refreshing your home with a spring clean, or saying goodbye to winter with a plant-based feast with your friends. And if you live in a town with a groundhog mascot, let your municipal representatives know your concerns about the animal’s wellbeing.