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Chehaw returns to spring predictions

A Meerkat is part of the Meerkat Manor exhibit at Chehaw Park.

A Meerkat is part of the Meerkat Manor exhibit at Chehaw Park.

— Chehaw is getting back in the business of predicting the start of spring weather on Groundhog Day.

On Thursday at 9:30 a.m., park officials will let loose the park's meerkats, who will be handling the job traditionally held by the groundhog, such as General Lee in north Georgia and Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil.

Asante, a meerkat, will be the critter to keep an eye on. If Asante reaches his sentry point without seeing his shadow, Chehaw officials say, Southwest Georgia can look forward to an early spring.

Meerkats are small burrowing animals that live in large underground networks with multiple entrances, which they leave only during the day. One meerkat stands sentry while others are foraging or playing to alert them of approaching danger.

When a threat is spotted, the sentry gives a warning bark and other members of the gang will run and hide in one of the many holes they have spread across their territory. If there is no threat, the sentry meerkat stops signaling and the others feel safe to emerge.

Previously, Southwest Georgia spring predictions were made by another Chehaw resident, Sheldon the gopher tortoise, whose last prediction apparently was made in 2008, when he predicted an early spring. Chehaw officials said at the time he had a perfect record during his eight years on the prognosticating job.

Of course with this winter having been unseasonably mild, the smart money is on an early spring again.