The groundhog that bit a former mayor's ear in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, is gone and likely won't return for next year's Groundhog Day, the town's new mayor said today.
Shortly after Jimmy the groundhog bit former Mayor Jon Freund's ear this past February, federal and state officials reportedly knocked on the door of his caretakers to notify them they needed to obtain proper wildlife permits to keep Jimmy.
"After that incident, officials from the United States of Department of Agriculture probably decided they needed to come and make sure everything was licensed," Ti Gauger told ABC News today.
Gauger added she and her husband, Jeff Gauger, cared for Jimmy, but they recently found out he needed to be released back to the wild after talking with officials from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
"We learned from WDNR, who has been very friendly and nice while working with us, that to be able to keep a groundhog it has to be fostered from a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center that rescued it," Gauger said. "The groundhog has to have been rescued and deemed unable to be released back to the wild after rehabilitation."
But before the couple could release Jimmy back to the wild themselves, Jimmy decided to take matters into his own hands, Gauger said.
"Jimmy the groundhog decided to take a vacation on his own," she said. "He was homed in a hutch in our backyard, but groundhogs are very resourceful animals, and he escaped. We think he's probably somewhere on our farm property. He's definitely not domesticated, so I'm sure he's OK."
Now that Jimmy's gone, Sun Prairie's current mayor, Paul Essert, said he believes it may be time to retire the decades-long tradition of having a live groundhog on Groundhog Day starting next year.
"My concern with a live groundhog is that it's a wild animal, and we're taking it out of its natural setting and bringing it out with lot of people and commotion," he told ABC News today. "And I’m questioning if that’s the appropriate way for us to handle an animal. I think something other than live groundhog might be better option such as a ceremonial replica of a groundhog."
But Gauger is hoping they'll be able to keep the live-groundhog tradition alive.
"I'm manager of the Century Business Improvement District, which is responsible for putting on the Groundhog Day event, and we work closely with the city," Gauger said. "We're working on finding a non-releasable groundhog from a state or national wildlife rehabilitation center that we can foster to keep the tradition alive of having a real, live groundhog on Groundhog's Day in Sun Prairie."
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told ABC News today that it was "aware of Sun Prarie's rich tradition," that there "are ways for the city to obtain and possess a groundhog to replace Jimmy," and that the agency was willing to help.
The United States Department of Agriculture did not immediately return ABC News' multiple calls and voice mails requesting comment.