Groundhog Day star Punxsutawney Phil should retire and be replaced by a robot, PETA says

Punxsutawney Phil undergoes "great stress" every year on Groundhog Day and should be replaced by a robot, the leader of PETA says.

Ingrid Newkirk writes in a letter to the furry celebrity's Groundhog Club that Phil deserves a break and should be allowed to retire.

The request, posted on PETA's website, comes ahead of Sunday's annual ceremony which will determine whether spring arrives early this year.

If Phil sees his shadow this weekend in the small Pennsylvania town, he will retreat and winter will continue for six weeks. If Phil does not see his shadow, spring will be here soon.

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It is a burden that Phil should be spared, according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"As a prey species, groundhogs actively avoid humans," Newkirk writes to club president Bill Deeley.

"Being in close proximity to the public causes these animals great stress."

Newkirk adds that when Phil is dragged out of his hole and held up to the lights and crowds, "he has no idea what is happening."

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"Being relegated to a library 'habitat' for the other days of the year doesn't allow him or the other groundhog there to dig, burrow, or forage.

Groundhog Club handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 131st celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Associated Press)

Groundhog Club handler John Griffiths holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 131st celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Associated Press)

"It's no kind of life for these animals."

Newkirk suggests an "animatronic groundhog" with artificial intelligence could replace Phil.

The techno-savvy "Phil" would actually be able to predict the weather, she says.

"An AI Phil would renew interest in Punxsutawney, generating a great deal of buzz, much like Sony's robot dog 'aibo,' which walks, plays, misbehaves, and responds to commands," she wrote.

"By creating an AI Phil, you could keep Punxsutawney at the Center of Groundhog Day but in a much more progressive way."

Deeley, the club president, said he has not read PETA's letter, but he told the Punxsutawney Spirit that the groundhog "lives better than the average child in Western Pennsylvania."

"If we were going to use an animatronic groundhog, that's not what people want to see," he told the newspaper.

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"They want to see Phil himself."

Up to 40,000 people show up for Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, a town of about 6,000.

Other groundhog ceremonies are held around the U.S. every year, including in the New York City borough of Staten Island.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio famously dropped Staten Island Chuck in 2014. Chuck would later die from his injuries.

"I tried it, it didn't end well, I won't be back," de Blasio cracked to the New York Daily News.

Newkirk said PETA would help find a sanctuary home for Phil and the other Punxsutawney groundhog.