By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun
4:53 PM EST, February 2, 2012
Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow Thursday, a sure sign that winter will continue for six more weeks.
Amari, the Maryland Zoo's spotted leopard, disagreed.
And the law of the jungle says leopard trumps groundhog every time.
For the second year in a row, the zoo staff arranged for one of its critters to make a prediction. With a crowd of employees watching, the 19-year-old cat sprang from her rocky lair and bounded toward two cardboard boxes.
The pink box was decorated with flowers, filled with meatballs and surrounded by straw carrying the essence of elephant.
The blue box was decorated with snowflakes, filled with meatballs and nestled in straw infused with the smell of antelope.
Amari pounced on the blue box of winter, knocking it silly. The crowd groaned.
But after inhaling the meatball treats, the big cat pivoted and turned her full attention on spring.
In a flash, the meat was gone but Amari lingered, rolling in the straw like a house cat with a catnip toy. Nuzzling the cardboard and flopping on her back made you almost forget that Amari is a nocturnal meat-eating machine with a top speed of 36 mph.
"Spring!" people in the crowd concluded as the leopard ignored the applause and cluster of TV cameras.
Satiated, Amari rose slowly and returned to finish off winter, ripping the cardboard with impressive teeth and claws and heaving the remnants in the air.
The display was in stark contrast to last year, when Tuffy the elephant predicted spring's arrival was still six weeks off by nibbling the fruit and grass skirt off a snow woman. For the record, the next four months had above-average temperatures.
When asked about the conflicting predictions between Phil and Amari, animal keeper Claire MacNamara noted playfully that in the real world, the groundhog would be no match for a spotted leopard.
"A groundhog is something she would definitely stalk and hunt," MacNamara said.
After Amari returned to her lair and the gate clanged shut, MacNamara and fellow keeper Robyn Johnson entered the enclosure with plastic garbage bags.
It was time for a little spring cleaning.
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