Denmark's Adorable Baby Polar Bear Siku Will Not Be Another Knut, Handlers Say
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Live stream video provided by Polar Bears International, Scandinavian Wildlife Park and explore.org/Pearls of the Planet.
Siku dangled like a stuffed toy from the arms of his keeper. But for the loud mewling coming from the little polar bear's voice it would be easy to mistake him for a stuffed toy.
Frank Vigh-Larsen, the director of the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Northern Denmark, put Siku down in the snow and the cub instantly launched forward on his belly, crawling with all four paws. At 12 weeks his is achingly close to walking - raising himself up for a moment then plunking down - but he's not there yet.
It is easy to see why the unbearably cute polar bear cub has become a global sensation, but Vigh-Larsen said he is determined to keep this fuzzy white ball of fluff from turning into another Knut.
Vigh-Larsen told ABC News he has already turned down offers of corporate Siku sponsorship, Siku toys and a Siku Hollywood film, but has accepted help from two American foundations to make Siku an ambassador for polar bears in the wild.
"Siku means 'sea ice' and that is on purpose because sea ice is essential for the wild polar bears,'" he said. "If the sea ice disappears, the polar bears are not able to feed and the polar bears will simply die of starvation and that is happening right now, very rapidly."
The irresistible Siku became famous shortly after he was born last November, when a daring operation was launched to rescue him from its mother, Ilka, who had lost two previous cubs because she couldn't produce milk. Park staff tranquilized Ilka and removed the frightened, hungry little polar bear from her den.
It was simply a mission to save the baby bear, but when park staff posted videos of his staggeringly sweet face on the Internet, Siku became an overnight celebrity around the world - one video has 1.5 million hits, at last count.
"It surprised us a lot that he became such a media darling but when you look at him, it is not surprising," Vigh-Larsen said.
It sounds a lot like the story of Knut, another international celebrity polar bear. Born in Berlin in 2006, Knut was rejected by his mother and raised by zookeepers, but when photos of the adorable little bear were released, "Knutmania" spanned the globe and Knut the polar bear cub quickly became a cash cow. There were toys, TV specials, books and DVDs, Knut even had his own Vanity Fair cover. The Berlin Zoo saw its attendance soar.
Knut died prematurely at age 4 last year. Zoo officials said it was an extremely young age for a species that can usually survive 20 years in captivity.
Vigh-Larsen said the Berlin zoo used Knut to bring in tourists, not as an icon to highlight the plight of polar bears in the wild - as the Earth warms, polar bears lose more and more Arctic sea ice they so desperately depend on for hunting and breeding grounds. It's estimated that if the current rate of sea ice melt continues, polar bears could be extinct in 40 years.
Until now Siku has been sleeping with a keeper in the warm confines of the administration building at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park, but he will soon be too big for that. In the next few days he will be transferred to a special compound outside. A keeper will be with him around the clock to continue to bottle feed him, but his home will be in the snow. Once Siku moves into the compound people around the world will be able to follow his progress on 24-hour webcams streamed live on the Internet.
When Siku turns 2, he will be moved into the seven-acre, open-air polar bear compound at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park, where he will be able to frolic with the four adult polar bears big bears in what is said to be the biggest polar bear compound in the world.
Watch ABC News' Jeffrey Kofman's full report on Siku on "Nightline" TOMORROW at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT