Knut is safe. That is the message lovers of Berlin's famous polar bear cub will be relieved to hear.
Reports Monday in DER SPIEGEL and the mass circulation newspaper Bild that animal rights activists wanted Knut put to sleep sparked massive protests from animal lovers across Germany. "We have received mass e-mails expressing sympathy for Knut," Andreas Ochs, Berlin Zoo's vet, told the German news agency ddp. The zoo itself had never considered putting Knut to sleep, he emphasized. "That was complete nonsense," Ochs said. "We would never do that."
Animal rights activists reportedly wanted Knut put down because he is being raised on a bottle after his mother Tosca, a retired circus performer, rejected him. Bild on Monday quoted animal rights activist Frank Albrecht as saying, "Raising him by hand is not appropriate to the species but rather a blatant violation of animal welfare laws. ... In actual fact, the zoo needs to kill the bear cub." The controversial idea did have a precedent -- a two-day-old baby sloth called Hugo was put down by lethal injection in Leipzig Zoo at the end of last year, sparking emotional protests at the time.
"Knut must live!"
Knut's smallest fans took to the streets to plead for the little bear's life. Bild Tuesday showed pictures of young children protesting at the zoo, holding up placards reading "Knut Must Live" and "We Love Knut." Celina, 6, told the newspaper, "Adults are so mean. I would be really sad if little Knut had to die."
"I thought animal rights activists were supposed to protect animals and didn't want to kill them," added fellow protestor Alexander, 4. "They are really silly!"
The animal rights group Four Paws also rejected calls for Knut to be put down. "We strongly reject him being put to sleep, which would break animal protection laws," spokesman Thomas Pietsch told Bild.
Readers of SPIEGEL ONLINE were also concerned to hear that Knut's life was in danger. Several readers wrote in to demand that Knut be spared from the activists' demands. "I can't believe those people would just let him die. You can send Knut to me!" wrote one female reader.
"This little guy deserves much more," another added. "He deserves to live, thrive and grow old!" One American reader suggested that Germany had its priorities wrong, writing, "I love animals, go for the terrorists."
A San Francisco-based reader proposed a very Darwinian solution to the debate. "Why not let the activists have a conference -- in the polar bear pen?" he suggested.
Albrecht's life now appears to be in more danger than Knut's. "I've received a whole lot of threatening e-mails and phone calls," Albrecht told the German news agency ddp Tuesday. One e-mail, he claimed, warned him that he should watch his back. Other callers and e-mailers suggested that he have himself put down.
Albrecht said he had also been verbally attacked during his work installing windows since his remarks were quoted Monday. Despite this, he says he is "happy that the topic of bear care and animal offspring is now being discussed in public."
He said the quote used by Bild was taken out of context. "I said that if one follows the line of argument used by Leipzig Zoo, then one would have to kill Knut as well," Albrecht says. He says he himself protested the killing of the baby sloth at the time.
Knut has become a star in Berlin and beyond since he was born in December. And if the weather is good, the fluffy white tyke is expected to make his first public appearance in the next few days.