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Groundhog Day predictions end in Queens

A 13-year-old tradition at the Queens Zoo came to an end this Groundhog Day when the pair of prairie dogs were shipped off to other parts of the city and country, where they will continue to practice their paranormal powers of prediction like their plumper groundhog brethren.It is the end of a staple Queens activity that normally drew borough presidents, local elected officials and area school students to the zoo with hopes that the prairie dogs would ignore their own shadows, indicating an early spring.The two prairie dogs, along with several of their kin, were sent to Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn as well as zoos in Hawaii.The city's only Groundhog Day event with a real groundhog was held in the Staten Island Zoo and featured Staten Island Chuck, who did not see his shadow, even though the nation's No. 1 groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, caught a glimpse of his own shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter.Scott Silver, the animal curator at the Queens Zoo, said the prairie dog exhibits were "phased out" because of a monkey pox scare a few years ago."Regulations for shipping prairie dogs around became much more strict," he said. "And every year they would have babies and it became much more problematic to ship them around."In their stead, the Queens Zoo will introduce a new kind of unusual animal called a pudu, a four- legged native of South America's Andes Mountains commonly known as the world's smallest deer.The zoo plans on acquiring a male and a female in hopes they will breed, said Silver. He said the new exhibit should be open by spring.While the tradition of prairie dog predictions may be over for Queens, Silver said the pudus should provide ample entertainment."We thought long and hard about ending that tradition because everyone was so fond of it, but when you see the pudus, you'll see how cute they are. Very little is known about the pudu, certainly not by people in New York. They're adorable."Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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