Zoo relents on bottle-feeding after cub deaths

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A German zoo under fire for allowing two polar bear cubs to die acted to save a third cub by deciding to raise it by bottle.

8th January 2008

Nuremberg (dpa) -  Keepers at Nuremberg zoo in southern Germany separated the three-week-old cub from its mother, Vera, after she became increasingly nervous about looking after her offspring.  "The cub is in good health and has been well-fed," zoo director Dag Encke said after veterinarians examined the baby.  The move came a day after two cubs born to another polar bear died. The zoo had warned in advance that it would not "rescue" them after their mother Vilma began behaving "strangely" amid indications the cubs were sick.  The deaths came a year after Berlin Zoo scored a publicity coup by saving the life of Knut, a polar bear cub that was raised by bottle after being abandoned by its mother at birth.  Knut generated huge international interest and massive revenues for the zoo, which saw attendances soar to a record 3.1 million in 2007 as visitors sought a glimpse of the cuddly animal cavorting with its keeper.  Vera, who gave birth to her cub around the same time as Vilma, was spotted Tuesday strolling across her enclosure, carrying her cub in her mouth.  Encke said the decision to remove the cub from its mother was taken after she displayed signs of anxiety at not finding a safe place for the cub in the polar bear enclosure.  "I don't know if we can bear to allow the little polar bear to starve to death if his mother Vera abandons him," Nuremberg Deputy Mayor Horst Foerther said earlier in the day.  The zoo had earlier defended its action to let the other cubs die, with a spokesman saying it had "acted absolutely correctly" under guidelines laid down by the European Animal Conservation and Breeding Programme.  The Bavarian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Monday attacked the zoo, saying it had breached its duty of care to the cubs.  "You can't move polar bears into artificial surroundings and then act as if they are still living wild," said the society president, Berthold Merkel.  The "rescue" of Knut in December 2006 triggered fierce debate among animal experts, some of whom said he should have been allowed to die rather than be raised by humans.

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