TN Aquarium searching for perfect fit groundhog pup after Chattanooga Chuck passes away
Chattanooga Chuck, the Tennessee Aquarium's famous woodchuck – also known as a groundhog - passed away on Monday night, November 11th at 10-years-old.
In addition to his Groundhog Day public appearances, Chuck was an ambassador animal and participated in educational programs throughout the year at the aquarium.
READ MORE | Farewell, Chattanooga Chuck! We will miss you!
The aquarium is currently searching for a new groundhog, but as of now, they do not expect to have one by Groundhog Day on February 2, 2020.
Chuck was raised at the aquarium since he was only a couple of months old.
Born in Pennsylvania to a licensed breeder, he was brought to the aquarium in order to expand their educational programs with native species and completed his training quickly.
Chattanooga Chuck's great demeanor meant he often allowed people to touch and engage with him.
Then, his first February with the aquarium, a new tradition began.
"Obviously, Groundhog Day is something that's very popular. And so, we did want to talk about Groundhog Day and have Chattanooga Chuck as our animal ambassador. At the time, nobody knew how popular he would get and that he would eventually become named one of the top groundhogs," Thom Benson, Director of External Affairs at the TN Aquarium, said of Chuck’s fame.
Chattanooga Chuck gained national attention as part of the winter weather folklore holiday, and the aquarium used it as a teaching moment.
"We spent most of that program talking about, you know, the folklore surrounding woodchucks is really kind of false because these guys are hibernators and in early February they're underground," stated Benson.
Thus, in nature, groundhogs are not great weather predictors.
The aquarium does want to continue Chuck's tradition, which allowed people to connect with the natural world.
"Because groundhogs only live in the wild 3 to 6 years on average and Chuck was 10 years old, we had been looking the past couple of years for a replacement but just really haven't been able to identify one of those pups that we could bring in," Benson explained of the process.
They are on the waiting lists for several licensed breeders and are being patient.
"Whether you're adopting a dog or a cat, you want to make sure that animal is a perfect fit for your family. Just like we want to make sure that an animal ambassador is a perfect fit for the Tennessee Aquarium," Benson said sincerely.
Since woodchucks are typically born in the spring and the aquarium wants a young pup, they'll likely not have a new one by Groundhog Day next year.
"In 2020, I think we'll just pause. You know, I think it would not be proper to have some other animal as a substitute for Chattanooga Chuck because it was an authentic program," stated Benson.
Benson added that whether it was for Groundhog Day or another educational program, the decision to come out and engage with the public was always Chattanooga Chuck's choice.
Providing opportunities for people to interact with animals, like Chattanooga Chuck, is important to the Tennessee Aquarium as it creates a bond with the natural world.
Benson told Channel 3 that the outpouring of support and messages from the community about Chattanooga Chuck's passing has been heartwarming.