Groundhog Day ceremony canceled in Milltown, N.J., as search for new ‘Milltown Mel’ groundhog continues

For the second year in a row, there will be no groundhog in Milltown, NJ to let residents know if they’re due for early spring or six more weeks of winter weather.

The last Milltown Mel died in late 2021 at age 5, exceeding the typical lifespan of marmots, Milltown wrangler Russ Einbinder said. In the past, they could replace Mel without much fanfare. But as the Wranglers struggled to find the next furry generation’s talent in meteorology, they canceled the 2022 Middlesex County ceremony and now the 2023 event.

In a brief Facebook post Sunday announcing the cancellation of the ceremony, the Wranglers said they had a replacement, but it ultimately didn’t meet New Jersey’s requirements.

» READ MORE: Punxsutawney Phil’s New Jersey counterpart dies just before Groundhog Day

The cancellation underscores that finding the next winter forecaster isn’t as easy as plucking a marmot from the wild, as some have claimed – to Einbinder’s confusion.

“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, I have one in my backyard,'” he said. “You try to handle one you haven’t handled since you were born and your hand gets bitten off.”

Additionally, there are strict rules governing wildlife ownership in New Jersey, and that was just one obstacle the Wranglers have encountered this year.

The Wranglers announced the birth of a new Mel in July, but they later learned the newborn couldn’t meet New Jersey’s wildlife regulations.

Groundhogs can carry a variant of rabies that doesn’t exist in the state, according to employees of New Jersey Fish and Wildlife. Because of this, these animals are tightly regulated, requiring proof of non-wild origin and further pre-approval before being imported.

“At this time, NJ DEP Fish & Wildlife has not filed an application for a pre-authorization to import a groundhog from Milltown,” the staff said in a statement.

Einbinder declined to go into specifics about where her chosen buck-teeth talent went wrong. He said it couldn’t be easier to borrow a marmot for the day. Zoos in Philadelphia, Central Park, the Bronx, and Akron had nothing to spare.

“We said, OK, we threw up our hands, that’s just not possible this year,” said Einbinder. “We’ve tried everywhere and there’s nothing.”

Einbinder said marmots are born in a relatively short period between late March and May, and few are born in captivity.

The Wranglers will try to find a new Mel that meets the state’s wildlife requirements this spring. In the meantime, they skip some suggestions like using an animatronic marmot or an animal disguised as a marmot. Einbinder said the Wranglers also politely declined a taxidermist’s offer to use a stuffed marmot.

“The concept is a little cheesy at first, but at least it’s a cool tradition with us, Pennsylvania, and other places that have been doing it for over 100 years and with changes,” Einbinder said. “The point is, we didn’t want to get too cheesy.”

The Milltown Wranglers suggested locals turn to Punxsutawney Phil in neighboring Pennsylvania or Mel’s other groundhog cousins ​​for winter forecasts.

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