Oregon alternative: Zoo hedgehog calls for early spring – Statesman Journal
The Oregon Zoo believes hedgehogs are the way to put animal-based weather forecasting back on track:
PORTLAND, Ore. — Punxsutawney Phil may be calling for six more weeks of winter, but here in the Northwest it’s safe to pack away those mittens. So says Whiskers J., the Oregon Zoo’s African pygmy hedgehog, who did not see his shadow this morning, meaning an early spring could be in store.
At 10:30 a.m., a small crowd gathered in the zoo entry plaza to watch the proceedings, some bearing signs with slogans like “Hedgehogs RULE!” and “HEY, Punxsutawney Phil! You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Groundhog!!”
“Hedgehogs are the real weather experts of the animal world,” said zoo curator Michael Illig, who presided over this morning’s Hedgehog Day festivities. “Punxsutawney Phil and his ilk are relative newcomers to the game. When European immigrants to the United States realized their new home didn’t have hedgehogs, they turned to the groundhog out of necessity. But Whiskers J. is bringing the holiday back to its origins.”
Tradition — and cuteness — might have to count for a lot. According to records from StormFax Weather Almanac, Phil’s predictions have been correct about 39 percent of the time. Oregon Zoo hedgehogs have been slightly more successful with a 40 percent accuracy rate.
“The zoo’s hedgehogs have fared about the same as Punxsutawney Phil — which admittedly is not that great,” Illig said. “Last year though, our hedgehog Mayzie did predict six more weeks of winter, which was pretty accurate for this region. We had major snowstorms and freezing rain in February and one of the wettest Marches on record.”
Whiskers J., one of five hedgehogs born at the zoo last summer, is making his forecasting debut this year. His distinctive moniker was selected by a zoo fan who bid on naming rights during November’s comedy night at the zoo — a conservation fundraiser that earned $28,000 for the Portland Audubon Society and the Tanzania-based Ruaha Carnivore Project.
The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas. The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs.
The zoo opens at 10 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.
General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.
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