By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Spring will come early to Northeast Mississippi, according to Oscar, the 1-year-old groundhog who resides at the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo.
Contrary to his famous Punxsutawney, Penn., counterpart, Oscar didn’t see his shadow upon emerging from his burrow Thursday morning. To the contrary, he walked around, nibbled food, dug a little bit and then went to his handler for a hug.
As legend goes, a groundhog who sees his shadow upon waking Feb. 2 means six more weeks of winter. A groundhog who doesn’t means an early spring. The event is celebrated throughout the United States, with several cities holding their own events.
Punxsutawney’s is the most renowned, but others are held in places like Marion, Ohio; Sun Prairie, Wis.; and Athens, Ga.
This was the first year the Tupelo Buffalo Park hosted a Groundhog Day event, said owner Dan Franklin, adding that it will become an annual tradition.
“We shouldn’t listen to a groundhog from another region,” Franklin said. “We should get our own prediction from our own groundhog.”
The Buffalo Park acquired Oscar from Oregon one year ago. Since then, he has grown fat and happy under the care of park nutritionist Katherine Brunson.
Brunson raised the groundhog since he was a baby and often cradles him in her arms and strokes his soft fur. She did so again Thursday after he predicted an early spring.
“He’s very lazy,” she said, scratching him behind his ears.
Also known as a woodchuck, the groundhog lives about 12 years in captivity – about six in the wild – and hibernates in winter.