PASSAU, Germany, April 8, 2008 -- A Hollywood movie star could not have asked for more publicity — more than 160 journalists and a half-dozen camera crews from all over the world have been flocking to Nuremberg Zoo for the 4-month-old polar bear cub's first public appearance today.
Flocke — or Flake, as in snowflake — was born last December and at first everything seemed to be just fine.
But then came the day in January when mother bear Vera was seen carrying her then 4-week-old cub around the enclosure and dropping it on the concrete floor several times, prompting concerns she could harm or even kill the cub.
Alarmed by Vera's agitated behavior, zoo officials decided to take the cub from its mother and raise it by hand.
Ever since, a team of four handlers has worked around the clock to take care of the polar bear, keeping her in a separate room, bottle feeding her every three hours with a mix of puppy food with milk.
Her diet was enriched with some dog food as she grew and developed an almost insatiable appetite. Boiled bones for her to chew on were added a couple of weeks ago, when she was three months old.
About 10 days ago, Flocke's keepers began to prepare the cuddly cub for her move to the polar bear compound.
"Flocke was very curious and ran through the grass," zoo veterinarian Bernhard Neurohr told reporters. "She snuffed everything her sensitive nose could detect. Her excursions took her to the water running though the compound, where she had a great time splashing about."
Polar bears are excellent swimmers. In fact, they can swim from the very beginning; they just don't know it and need to practice at first.
Flocke was taken to the zoo's beginners pool to practice and develop her swimming skills. She loved the water and it wasn't long before she could swim.
Flocke's very first trip outside of her "baby room" was successful and her keepers are confident that she will adopt her new living quarters in the polar bear enclosure in no time.
A big stage for visitors has been built right outside that new compound and the zoo is expecting up to 20,000 people a day coming to see Flocke.
The cute polar bear cub has grown into a marketing feature. She will help advertize the Nuremberg metropolitan region on a poster, which is displayed at a number of bus and train stops all over Nuremberg.
Her picture is also seen on baby clothes and kids' toys, not to mention the fact that stuffed white toy polar bears are the absolute hit at toy stores here.
More important, perhaps, is going to be her role as "Ambassador For the Protection of our Environment," as the Nuremberg's zoo director Dag Encke told reporters at a press conference today.
"Flocke has become a real attraction. We never thought it be possible there'd be such an interest worldwide. We would like to make her what we call a 'flagship animal' – use the interest in her to make people aware that these species are threatened in their main natural habitat," Encke said.
He continued, "There are about 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears living in the Arctic, but the ice is melting and we will see a drastic decline unless we manage to stop the global warming and protect our environment. Therefore, we want to use Flocke's stardom to draw attention to the dramatic damage caused by climate change."
Encke was referring to the observations by animal protectionists, who are predicting that global warming is causing the disappearance of sea ice from which the polar bears hunt for their prey. Less time on the ice to hunt and store leaves polar bears hungry and hinders reproduction.
If current climate trends continue unabated, polar bears could become extinct by the end of this century.