Tuffy agrees with Phil: spring is near

With no groundhogs at the Maryland Zoo, African elephant had to make the call

February 02, 2011|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

The size of 833 ordinary groundhogs, Tuffy the African elephant steps slowly from barn to holding pen, oblivious to his looming place in Maryland meteorological predictions.

If he sees his massive shadow, winter soon will end. If not, it's six more weeks of dreary skies, mush and slop and cold nights without power.

That Phil, the groundhog in Punxsutawney, has predicted an early spring matters not to Tuffy. He's an elephant and cannot read.

If there's a shadow to be cast, Tuffy is up to the tusk, er, task.

But, wait, two snow figures, built by zoo workers, stand in Tuffy's outdoors pen: a frowning snowman and a smiling snow woman in a grass skirt and bikini top. Which one will the elephant select? Tuffy chews some hay and ponders the situation.

No, no one has ever used an elephant to predict the weather. However, the Maryland Zoo no longer keeps woodchucks, the groundhog's name on any day but Feb. 2, so a stand-in is required.

"What else do you have?" a reporter asks Jane Ballentine, the zoo's spokeswoman.

"We could pull an elephant out of a barn for you," she replies helpfully.

Tuffy has to step outside each day while zookeepers clean his barn, so it's no bother.

And really, why does it have to be a groundhog? Why not a hedgehog? A hound dog? A bullfrog?

Why not a pachyderm?

And so, here we are, awaiting Tuffy's pronouncement.

He reaches out with his trunk and nibbles the skirt of the snow woman and eats one of her eyes made of fruit. Then, after sampling the snowman's eye, Tuffy makes sure the record is clear. With a push, he send the snow woman to the ground.

A cheer goes up from zoo workers: Early spring.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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