Famous weather prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil, the beloved woodchuck who emerges every Groundhog Day to foretell how much more winter to expect, should be retired and replaced by a robot.
That’s the plea from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world’s largest animal rights organization, which is trying to convince the furry rodent’s caretakers to let Phil quit his job and head to literal greener pastures.
“Groundhogs are shy animals, they are prey animals and they wouldn’t choose to be pulled out to large, screaming crowds,” PETA spokesman Lewis Crary tells PEOPLE. “We’re hoping to get an agreement that these animals deserve to live in the acreage and amenities they deserve, in a sanctuary.”
The group is proposing that instead of a live groundhog, the animal should be swapped out for an animatronic version that would be equipped with artificial intelligence capable of more accurately predicting the weather.
Such technology already exists, Crary says, pointing to such creatures as Aibo, a robot dog.
“We’re just asking that the same kind of technology be applied to a groundhog,” he says. “Punxsutawney really is on the map for annual groundhog harassment. They could be an ambassador representing progression.”
The famed annual celebration at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania will be the town’s 134th year of marking the day, during which Phil is plucked from a tree stump and displayed to adoring crowds. If the buck-toothed critter sees his shadow, that means six more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t, that’s the sign for an early spring, according to legend. Phil’s weather forecasting record is spotty.
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, which cares for Phil year round, did not respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment, but president Bill Deeley told the Washington Post that the 11 to 17-pound creature does not appear to be in any distress.
“If he’s so fearful of the cameras, if he’s so fearful of us and of the crowds, why doesn’t he make an attempt to run away?” Deeley said.
Deeley said visitors want to see a real animal during the celebration.
“Imagine if he was an animated little creature outside where you put in a dollar and he waves at you,” he told the paper. “That’s not what people want to see, and that’s not what our community wants, either.”
Crary said PETA, which has been asking the Club to stop using a live groundhog for 10 years, has not yet received a formal response to its request for a halt to “this misguided tradition.”
“Retire these animals and seek a new technological alternative,” he says. “There’s simply no reason that we’re entertaining ourselves by victimizing defenseless rodents.”