Groundhog 'dropped' by New York mayor Bill de Blasio dies from internal injuries 'consistent with a fall'

Mr De Blasio lost his grip on the animal during this year's Groundhog Day celebrations at Staten Island Zoo

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In some New York neighbourhoods, killing rodents is a respectable career. But not if you're the mayor, and not if the rodent is a groundhog. Every year on 2 February, aka Groundhog Day, the Mayor of New York is invited to handle a beloved creature called “Chuck” at the Staten Island Zoo. If the groundhog sees its own shadow, it is said, winter will go on for another six weeks.

But this year, to the horror of gathered schoolchildren, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio lost his grip on the groundhog, who fell to the ground with a thump. One week later, Chuck was dead. The cause, according to zoo officials: internal injuries, “consistent with a fall”.

Brian Morris, a spokesman for the Staten Island Zoo, appeared to exonerate the Mayor, telling the Associated Press that Chuck was given a thorough medical check-up in the hours after the incident, which found “no evidence of trauma or pain.” The groundhog went on to participate in several other events in the days leading up to its death.

“We don't know how the animal suffered the injuries but we don't think it was from the fall,” Morris said. “We believe it happened sometime the night before she was found dead.”



The mayor's allies point out that, strictly speaking, Mr De Blasio did not drop the groundhog; rather, it squirmed out of his grasp in an attempt to escape. But one of the Mayor's opponents, Republican Councilman Vincent Ignizio, urged the zoo not to allow the mayor to hold the animal at all. “I think the handling of the groundhog may be best left to professionals,” Mr Ignizio said.

Staten Island Zoo has four groundhogs, all of which are known to the public simply as Chuck. On Groundhog Day, the zoo selects the least grouchy of the four to perform in the ceremony, perhaps to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2009, when Chuck bit former mayor Michael Bloomberg on the hand. This year's ill-fated animal was a female known to her friends as Charlotte. She was a mere 10 months old when she died; most groundhogs live around seven years.

This was Mr De Blasio's first appearance as Mayor at the annual event. It came less than a month after his first notable gaffe as mayor, when he was photographed at an Italian restaurant eating pizza with a knife and fork.