Without groundhogs, Brookfield Zoo celebrates 'Bearhog Day'

BROOKFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- It's Groundhog Day. But Chicago, we have a problem! There are no groundhogs in our zoos.

Lincoln Park Zoo hasn't had a groundhog for over 15 years; when the last animal died the February 2nd tradition ended.

And at Brookfield Zoo, the last Groundhog Day event was five years ago, and when Tumbleweed passed away, so did the celebration. The furry weather casters will never be replaced ... but why?

"Groundhogs are very kind of plentiful animals and zoos are about conservation stories. So we want to work with animals that we don't have to roust up every February 2nd to get a story. We want animals that are more emblematic of predicting weather," said Tim Sullivan, curator of behavioral husbandry.

So what do we do? It's Groundhog Day and there are no groundhogs. Maybe another animal. How about bears? Bearhog Day... Yeah, that's the ticket!

His name is Hudson and this 1,100 pound Brookfield Zoo polar bear is - for just today - starring as a 15-pound groundhog. His treat for changing species is a special sweet potato, carrots and veggie cake. It's his favorite. And even though he doesn't care about sunshine and shadows and early or late spring, we do - and with today's lousy weather, there was no shadow.

"That means it's an earlier spring and that's a benefit for all Chicagoans," Sullivan said.

So Hudson the polar bear gives us a new holiday: Bear Hog Day.

One more close look under that big sun blocker body, nope. Still no shadow. Could this be the start of something new?

"We hope so. Polar bears are a better species to think about when we're thinking about weather and climate change - which is affecting all of us - so we're hoping that people will get on board with this new change," Sullivan said.

Six more weeks of winter? Not a chance. We've got it licked.
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