Hand-Reared Versus Hands-Off German Zoo Prepared to Let its Polar Bear Cubs Die

While Berlin Zoo is busy negotiating a Hollywood deal for its hand-reared celebrity Knut, Nuremberg Zoo is determined to avoid "Knutomania" for its newborn polar bears. It is even prepared to let them die in a strict hands-off policy.


Knut merchandise on sale in Berlin Zoo. Nuremberg Zoo wants to avoid "Knutomania" for its polar bear cubs.
AFP

Knut merchandise on sale in Berlin Zoo. Nuremberg Zoo wants to avoid "Knutomania" for its polar bear cubs.

Two polar bears have given birth to an unknown number of cubs in the southern German city of Nuremberg, but the zoo is determined to avoid what it calls "Knutomania" and is prepared to let the cubs die rather than hand-rear them should the mothers reject them.

"Vera" and "Wilma", two young polar bear females, gave birth three weeks and five weeks ago respectively, and Vera occasionally strolls out of her cave, sparking concern in the local media that she might not be showing enough interest in her offspring.

But Nuremberg's deputy director Helmut Mägdefrau told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the cubs will not be hand-reared like Knut, who was bottle-fed from birth in Berlin Zoo after his aging mother Tosca, 21, showed no interest in him.

"If something goes wrong, it goes wrong," said Mägdefrau. "If you don't let the mothers practice, they'll never learn how to bring up their cubs. We have two young mothers here and if something goes wrong they'll always have other opportunities."

"We're cautiously optimistic. Vera does come out of her cave occasionally but the cubs are crying loudly, and she walks back in when they do. But there's no guarantee everything will go well. If we were to go in and keep checking, we would disturb them and make it more likely that something goes wrong."

Mägdefrau said it was unclear how many cubs had been born and that the first check would take place in a few weeks' time.

He said he wasn't opposed to hand-rearing in principle and that it had to be decided on a case-by-case basis. "Berlin Zoo did a terrific job hand-rearing Knut from day one. But we want to avoid Knutomania at all costs. If people spend hours queuing up to see a polar bear cub, there's something wrong. We've got a baby giraffe too, that's just as cute."

"We're not in the business of making deals," added Mägdefrau, in a swipe at Berlin Zoo which has successfully marketed Knut and even registered him as a trademark. "We're not allowed to engage in commercial activities."

Meanwhile back in Berlin, zoo officials are negotiating a Hollywood movie deal for Knut, now a chubby, playful 13 month-old who still likes to play with his keeper Thomas Dörflein. The zoo has confirmed it is considering offers from a number of production firms about making an animated film about Knut's story in the style of "Finding Nemo" or "Shrek." Media reports say the 20-month daughter of Tom Cruise, Suri, may provide Knut's voice.

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