Baby Polar Bear Named Flocke

German zoo named polar bear cub Flocke, which means snowflake in German.

ByChristel Kucharz

PASSAU, Germany, Jan. 18, 2008 — -- "We'll call her Flocke," Nuremberg's Lord Mayor Ulrich Maly said, proudly announcing the jury's decision at a news conference, which was shown live on German TV.

Almost 30,000 e-mails with about 50,000 suggestions have arrived at City Hall in Nuremberg since city officials invited the public to participate in a "name-a-polar-bear-cub" competition.

E-mails all the way from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, but also from places as far away as Japan and the Persian Gulf, landed in the city's mailbox and the zoo's Web site has been visited about 1.5 million times in the last 10 days.

Zoo keepers had nicknamed the 5-week-old cub Flocke as in flake or snowflake because the cuddly little polar bear was reportedly as white as a snowflake. The name has now become official.

Flocke has lived so far amid a swirl of controversy. The cub was taken away from its mother about 10 days ago amid concerns that she could harm or even kill her offspring.

At first, zoo officials came under heavy criticism when they decided not to interfere with Mother Nature and did not prevent another female polar bear at the zoo from killing her two cubs.

That incident caused a public outcry and later the zoo director rescued Flocke when its mother began showing signs of stress.

Within 24 hours after the death of the two cubs, Flocke's mother had appeared increasingly nervous and upset. She was then seen walking around her compound with the live cub in her mouth, dropping it on the floor several times, causing great concern for its well-being.

It was then that zoo officials separated the cub from its mother.

Yet, that decision has not been met with unanimous approval either.

While the media and the public praised the zoo for making that decision, biologists and animal rights activists publicly condemned the move voicing concerns.

"It's totally wrong to breed wild animal in zoos," said Frank Albrecht, an animal conservation expert. He told the media at a news conference in Nuremberg, "Attempts to breed polar bears in zoos fail in 70 [percent] to 80 percent of cases."

Other critics in Germany allege that the heartwarming tale of bottle-fed polar bear cubs creates an illusion of a cozy zoo world.

Animal rights activist Juergen Ortmuller told in a telephone interview, "Keeping polar bears in a zoo has nothing to do with proper upbringing. I believe that Nuremberg Zoo's decision to hand-rear the cub will just produce another psychopath," pointing to Berlin Zoo's polar bear Knut, who was brought up by his keepers after he was abandoned by his mother.

Knut just had his first birthday party last month and he's still the darling of the Berliners.

According to Ortmuller, Berlin's famous Knut is increasingly showing behavioral problems. "Have you ever seen a polar bear playing with a blanket? Is that considered normal behavior?" he asked. "In as much that we need to preserve those animals, it is totally wrong to give the public the impression that one of the most dangerous and powerful predators on Earth is just a cuddly creature. Those animals need to grow up in their natural habitat, not in a zoo."

However, the City of Nuremberg, which owns the zoo, has had overwhelming support from all over the world for its decision to raise the tiny polar bear cub and not return it to its mother.

There are four keepers who care for Flocke around the clock. Flocke still sleeps under a heating lamp. The bear is fed about every three hours with a special milk and it is making very good progress weighing almost 7 pounds.

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