No, Mortimer is not dead.
But he won’t be letting his fans know whether spring will come early.
Instead, the groundhog will be enjoying retirement at his home, watching television, eating coconuts and “snoozing,” his handler Kindra Mammone says.
“Nobody needs to be concerned about him,” she said. “He’s just old now so we’re retiring him.”
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His successor: Snerd, a much younger groundhog, with no gray hair. Mortimer is 9 years old and had been predicting the end of winter at events for the past eight years – the first three in Raleigh and the last five in Garner at White Deer Park.
Kindra Mammone and her husband Vinny both take care of Mortimer and Snerd. The spring forecasters live in the Mammone home along with 20 other animals, ranging from opossums, racoons, foxes and dogs to cats, a kinkajou and prarie dogs.
“He’s getting older and he’s showing his age,” Kindra Mammone said of Mortimer. “Like humans, as you get older, you get a little grumpier. He just doesn’t have the patience for people, especially children, like he used to have and we respect that.”
Groundhogs bred in captivity live on average 12 years, as opposed to four years in the wild.
Every year for the past five, Mortimer has had his picture taken with more than 600 children and their parents. Dressed in a suit and a top hat, Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams also interacts with the groundhog.
Mammone said the noise and constant touching can wear on Mortimer. Last Groundhog Day, she said he started to squeak, a noise he makes when he is aggravated.
“Groundhogs if they choose to, can bite you to the bone,” Mammone said. “We want to make sure the groundhogs we take are safe, and none of those kids are going to get bitten.”
Williams said he’s fine with Mortimer retiring. He said one of his fondest memories of Mortimer was when the animal nibbled at his ear.
“It scared the bejesus out of me,” Williams said. “A little blood but I was OK. Those are the risks you take when you're involved in leadership. But you got to step up and give the people what they want.”
Following a star
Replacing Mortimer may be a tall order. He’s correctly predicted spring seven of his eight chances, Kindra Mammone said.
Snerd, Mortimer’s year-old understudy, has been a backup for his elder for a while.
But the two, she said, have very different personalities. Mortimer is a northerner from Pennsylvania and Snerd is a southerner from Virginia. Mortimer, with his graying coat is more reserved. Snerd is still young and still hyper, she said. Mortimer loves nuts while Snerd loves bananas.
Vinny Mammone will handle Snerd at the event. She said her husband is Snerd’s favorite. Because this is his first big event, there will be limited contact with the groundhog.
“Children will be able to feel the fur until he gets tired of it. They can take pictures with him and will be able to touch him but in a very controlled way,” she said. “If he starts to get antsy, we have to stop.”