NJ groundhog found dead the day before Groundhog Day
Well, now it's time for Stonewall V.
The fourth New Jersey groundhog to bear the Stonewall name was found dead Monday, a day before he was to be tasked with predicting the arrival of 2016's spring.
"I think it was just old age," said Parker Space, a New Jersey assemblyman whose family owns and operates the Space Farms Zoo and Museum. "When we put him in his den in the fall, he was nice and fat and plump."
Stonewall had a fairly long life — at least six or seven years. Space said that's about normal for a groundhog in captivity, and a little longer than might be seen out in the wild.
And if Stonewall had to go, Space said, he's glad he went in his sleep. It's a gentler fate than Staten Island's groundhog saw in 2014, when Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped Groundhog Chuck, leading to its death a few days later.
"It's a better way to go than what happened to his long-distance cousin," Space said.
And Stonewall had a happy life, "with at least a few girlfriends in there in his den," Space said.
Still, Space said, his family thought they'd get at least another year out of Stonewall.
Stonewall IV was "at least as good as any weather forecaster," Space said (though he quickly took it back when told how much New Jersey 101.5 values its own meteorologist, Dan Zarrow). He estimated about an 80 percent accuracy rate.
Stonewall and the far-more-famous Punxsutawney Phil have often been in disagreement. Last year, Stonewall predicted an early spring that never came — but Space still estimated about an 80 percent accuracy rate.
Stonewall is one of at least three New Jersey groundhogs to try and predict the coming of spring on Groundhog Day. There are others in Milltown and in West Orange.
So while this year's Groundhog Day ceremony in Wantage had to be cancelled, Space said, he'll begin the work of prepping Stonewall V for next year.
"And I suppose we'll have a backup, just in case," he said.