Polar Bear Cub Flocke Makes Zoo Debut

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) -- Never mind the burly polar bear Knut, here's the cute new cub Flocke. With all the fanfare of a movie premiere or record release, Nuremberg city and zoo officials on Tuesday introduced Germany's latest winsome polar bear cub to a public eager for its first live glimpse of her.

The furry 4-month-old imp has been tugging at their heartstrings by video and photograph for months.

"Not only Nuremberg, but the whole world has been in Flocke fever," said the city's deputy mayor Horst Foerther. He said the cub has attracted millions of hits on Google since the zoo decided to raise her by hand in January.

In her afternoon debut before television cameras, the chubby bear had to be coaxed out into the polar bear enclosure, then slowly nosed around the rocks and grass with the curiosity of a toddler - keeping close to the zookeeper with her.

But she quickly gained confidence, eventually bounding through the grass and plunging into the water; paddling about for a few minutes before climbing out to nibble on the zookeeper's shoe to the delight of the television reporters providing commentary for the national live broadcast of the event.

Flocke, born Dec. 11 and then rejected by her mother, made her public debut at the Nuremberg zoo just as interest in the Berlin zoo's now fully grown polar bear sensation, Knut, seems to be waning.

Knut was abandoned by his own mother in 2006 and was raised by zookeepers. He became something of a Berlin zoo franchise, attracting more than a million visitors and inspiring a stuffed-animal, a Vanity Fair cover with Leonardo DiCaprio, a children's book and even a feature film.

But Knut has gone from roly-poly and cute to chunky and a little dangerous - a transition not lost on Flocke's keepers who advertised her introduction to the public with posters reading "Knut was yesterday."

Flocke - German for "Flake," as in snowflake - was taken from her mother, Vera, Jan. 8 for hand-rearing after Vera was seen tossing the cub around her enclosure.

Aware of Knut's star power, the zoo quickly set up its own polar bear cub Web site with regular updates - Flocke is a girl; Flocke's eyes open; Flocke learns to swim; Flocke walks on grass, for example - accompanied with photos and video for her adoring fans.

Now about 19 kilograms (42 pounds), Flocke has been romping around in a private enclosure but will be put on public display starting Wednesday.

Zoo director Dag Encke implored people on Tuesday to use the interest in Flocke to force action on climate change, which is affecting the habitat of wild polar bears.

In that sense, Encke said at a nationally televised news conference with some 430 reporters, "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.

As Flocke bounded about in Nuremberg, Knut lolled about lazily in Berlin as the occasional visitor snapped a picture.

Still, it was 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 150 kilogram (330 pound) bear. "Flocke is sweet, but she's No. 2. I think that matters."

Detlef Untermann, spokesman for the Berlin zoo, said 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."


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