On Groundhog Day, zoo hedges its bets for an early spring

January 29, 2016 - 1:51pm

Zoo's old-school prognosticator gears up for annual Hedgehog Day prediction

Punxsutawney Phil may hog most of the attention on Feb. 2, but Oregon Zoo traditionalists say a young hedgehog known as Velda is actually the one to watch. The spiny little creature will make her prediction Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 10:30 a.m. in the zoo's entry plaza: Will it be an early spring this year, or should we hunker down for six more weeks of winter?

Hedgehog Day festivities are free and open to the public. A zoo admission ticket is not required to access the main entry plaza.

Velda, one of five hedgehogs born at the zoo in 2014, will be making her forecasting debut this year. Her name was selected by a zoo fan who bid on naming rights during a comedy night fundraiser that earned $28,000 for the Portland Audubon Society and the Tanzania-based Ruaha Carnivore Project.

"Hedgehogs are the real weather experts of the animal world," said zoo curator Michael Illig, who will oversee the zoo'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 Velda is bringing the holiday back to its origins."

Considering the track record of the zoo's hedgehog prognosticators though, tradition — and cuteness — might have to count for a lot.

"The zoo's hedgehogs have fared slightly better than Punxsutawney Phil — which admittedly is not that great," Illig said. "Last year though, our hedgehog Whiskers J. did predict an early spring, which was definitely accurate for this region. We had the warmest winter on record."

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 45 percent accuracy rate.