April 9, 2008

First Sight of New Polar Bear Cub at German Zoo

The German city of Nuremberg and officials at the city's zoo introduced a new polar bear cub, named Flocke, to the public Tuesday.   

For months, the 4-month-old cub had only been seen in videos and photographs.

"Not only Nuremberg, but the whole world has been in Flocke fever," Horst Foerther, the city's deputy mayor, told the Associated Press.  Foerther said the cub has attracted millions of hits on Google.

Amid a ceremony filled with fanfare and broadcast live around the country, Flocke made her public debut before television cameras and had to be coaxed out into the polar bear enclosure.  The chubby cub slowly nosed around the grass and rocks, eventually plunging into the water once she had her confidence, paddling around for a few minutes before climbing out to nibble on the zookeeper's shoe to the audience's delight.

Flocke, German for "Flake", as in snowflake, was born Dec 11 and then rejected by her mother, Vera, shortly thereafter.  On Jan 8, Flocke was selected for hand-rearing at the zoo.  Flocke made her public debut at the same time interest in another popular polar bear, Knut, now fully grown, at Berlin's zoo seemed to be waning.

Knut was also abandoned by his mother in 2006 and was raised by zookeepers. The cub became something of a Berlin zoo phenomenon, attracting millions of visitors and scoring a Vanity Fair cover with Leonardo DiCaprio, a children's book and a feature film.    

Although the bear does not hold the same celebrity as in years past, it is clear that Knut retained some of the animal magnetism that made him a celebrity.

"Knut has the advantage of being a media star: He was the first," said teacher Ulrike Robel who had taken her class to see the 330 polar bear. "Flocke is sweet, but she's No. 2. I think that matters."

But Detlef Untermann, spokesman for the Berlin zoo, told the Associated Press there's room enough for both bears.

"It's clear that people like it cute, small, cuddly and white; button eyes, button nose - it's OK that way and Nuremberg can enjoy the attention of the public now," he said. "The Berlin zoo is not envious in any way, and Knut doesn't begrudge them either; he's been brought up quite well."

Keenly aware of Knut's star power, the Nuremberg zoo quickly set up its own polar bear cub Web site, which it regularly updates with headlines such as-Flocke is a girl; Flocke's eyes open; Flocke learns to swim; Flocke walks on grass - accompanied with photos and video for adoring fans to view.

Weighing about 19 pounds, Flocke has been living in a private enclosure, but will be put on public display starting Wednesday.

Dag Encke, the zoo's director, urged the public to use the interest in Flocke to force action on climate change, which he said is affecting the habitat of wild polar bears.

"Flocke is no more a polar bear, but Flocke is not a person - Flocke is an obligation, or a window into an obligation," he said at a nationally televised news conference with some 430 reporters.


On the Net:

Flocke - the Nuremberg polar bear baby

Berlin Zoo