Central New Jersey town will be without its beloved rodent this Groundhog Day

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, February 1, 2024
NJ town will be without its beloved rodent this Groundhog Day
Anthony Johnson has the latest.

MILLTOWN, New Jersey (WABC) -- One New Jersey town will be without its beloved furry rodent on Groundhog Day this year.

For years, Milltown Mel was the headliner for over a thousand Central Jersey residents hoping the groundhog would predict spring was close at hand. But when he died, the effort to find his replacement hit a snag.

Organizers of the Milltown event, called wranglers, searched several states to find another Mel, but the search was snarled because of state regulations with wild animals.

"We've called wildlife refugees, we've called different zoos, we've called exotic animal breeders. They're just not available," said Russell Einbinder, a wrangler in Milltown.

Last year, organizers were able to find a suitable replacement who passed all medical tests, but the new Mel, Mel T., was unsuitable because he was from a southern state with restrictions, state officials said.

"There was a rabies vector that was considered very dangerous from the south, that was going to spread to the north. So, they stopped importing any kind of animal, mostly rodents and small mammals, to the north, "said Einbinder. "Animal control had to come and take (Mel T.) away."

When the annual tradition is honored Friday by Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck, there will be one less groundhog to share their prediction.

However, Milltown organizers have not given up hope.

"It's a great tradition, we will be doing it again," said George Murray, the mayor of Milltown. "Once we procure another groundhog."

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