Berlin Zoo has rejected criticism from a local member of parliament that it has been cramming too many animals into too little space and that it isn't providing enough room for its charges, including hand-reared celebrity polar bear Knut, who is reported to be unhappy in his new enclosure.
"He doesn't feel well and international bear experts confirm that," Claudia Hämmerling, the wildlife protection expert for the opposition Greens in Berlin's city parliament, said in a statement.
Canadian polar bear expert Else Poulsen told Berlin daily Tagesspiegel last month that Knut's life with three other polar bears was "monotonous, outdated and cruel," and that he was losing fur and didn't have enough muscle for a four-year-old.
Knut had an area to himself but was moved into a new enclosure in September and shares it with Tosca, his mother who rejected him, and with two other female bears. Visitors have complained that the trio has been ganging up on Knut and threatening him, and that he often looks scared and sits in a corner of the enclosure looking depressed.
"Visiting the zoo should be fun rather than cause sympathy and protest. It is bad for Berlin if animal lovers around the world are worried about Knut. Berlin's 'golden polar bear' gave Berlin global attention and provided the zoo with millions in revenue," said Hämmerling. She said Knut didn't have enough room for himself.
Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz denied the accusations: "It's simply not true that we're holding more animals in less space," he said.
Animal Numbers Increasing
Hämmerling said the number of animals held in Berlin's two zoos in eastern and western Berlin had increased by 2,029 to 23,706 between 2007 and 2009. "This is not justifiable," she said.
She said the death of elephant cow Sabah last month following a fight with another elephant was attributable to a lack of space, as was a tragic case in which an ostrich died because an antelope had eaten its feathers. The two species were kept in the same enclosure together with other animals.
Bild newspaper quoted Blaszkiewitz on Tuesday as saying: "Only someone who hasn't been in the zoo for a long time could be saying something like that."
The zoo has also denied that Knut is distressed, and insists that the interaction between the four bears is normal.
Hämmerling said the Berlin city government, which subsidizes the two zoos with 7.2 million ($10.1 million) a year, should not be allowing the zoo to increase its stock of animals.