Polar bear cub dodges death in Germany

20th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

20 March 2007, Berlin (dpa) - A cuddly polar bear cub has won a reprieve after animal rights campaigners claimed he should be put down because he was becoming too dependent on humans. The bear, named Knut, has become something of a media celebrity in Germany, where he is being raised by a male keeper at a Berlin zoo after being rejected by his mother. The idea that Knut should be killed by a lethal injection is "complete nonsense," according to Andre Schuele, a veterinary surgeon at the Zoological Gardens

20 March 2007

Berlin (dpa) - A cuddly polar bear cub has won a reprieve after animal rights campaigners claimed he should be put down because he was becoming too dependent on humans.

The bear, named Knut, has become something of a media celebrity in Germany, where he is being raised by a male keeper at a Berlin zoo after being rejected by his mother.

The idea that Knut should be killed by a lethal injection is "complete nonsense," according to Andre Schuele, a veterinary surgeon at the Zoological Gardens where the bear was born.

After giving birth on December 5 last year, his 20-year-old mother Tosca, a former circus bear, showed a complete lack of motherly instinct and abandoned Knut and his twin brother.

Afraid the cubs might be trampled on, keepers rescued them and persuaded the zoo director to allow them to try and raise the cubs themselves by feeding them milk from a bottle.

The cubs weighed 780 and 810 grams at birth, but only Knut, the stronger of the two, pulled through after spending 44 days in an incubator.

Since then he has grown to a normal weight of nine kilos and has been shown on television playing in the sand or happily romping along behind his keeper, Thomas Doerflein.

But this dependency on humans proved too much for animal rights activist Frank Albrecht.

"Hand-feeding is not appropriate to the species and is a gross violation of the animal protection laws," he told the mass circulation Bild newspaper.

"Legally speaking, the zoo should kill the baby bear. Otherwise it is condemning the bear to a dysfunctional life and that too is a breach of animal protection laws," he said.

Albrecht won partial support from the director of Aachen zoo, Wolfram Graf Ludwig, who said he, too, was opposed to bottle feeding the little white cub.

"He will always be fixated on his keeper and will never grow to be a proper polar bear," Ludwig said, arguing he should have been killed immediately after his mother rejected him. "It's too late now," he added.

Wolfgang Apel, president of the Germany Society for the Protection of Animals, called for the "humanisation" of the bear to stop as soon as possible. But he said the animal should be be allowed to live. "Killing him has nothing to do with animal protection," said.

The idea that the fluffy white bear could be put down caused an outcry similar to that which occurred last summer when hunters in Bavaria shot dead a brown bear that escaped from its nature reserve. Children demonstrated for Knut to be saved, newspapers printed readers' poems about him and Berlin's local television stations had almost daily report on how he was faring.

New York photographer Annie Leibovitz has also taken pictures of the cub for an international anti-greenhouse-gas campaign to illustrate the melting of the icebergs.

Last December, a two-day-old baby sloth was put down with a lethal injection in Leipzig zoo after it was rejected by its mother.

Knut's case is different, according to Schuele. "The baby sloth was suffering from hypothermia and had little chance of survival," he said.

The public will have their first chance to see Knut in the flesh later this week or early next week, according to zoo officials, who say they've received dozens of congratulatory messages from other zoos on their success in raising the cub.

Out of 70 cubs born in captivity over the past 50 years, only 34 have lived. Knut is the first to do so at Berlin zoo in more than 30 years.

But it remains to be seen how long Knut will stay in the German capital. Other zoos, mostly in Europe, have already made enquiries about using him for breeding purposes when he reaches maturity.

DPA

Subject: German news

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