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'We want this baby polar bear dead' say animal rights lobby
By ALLAN HALL
Last updated at 22:08pm on 19th March 2007
Tiny, fluffy and adorable, Knut the baby polar bear became an animal superstar after he was abandoned by his mother.
He rapidly became the symbol of Berlin Zoo, whose staff bottle-fed him and handed out cuddles in between
When Knut was born last December his mother ignored him, zoo officials intervened and chose to raise him themselves
At three months old, however, the playful 19lb bundle of fur is at the centre of an impassioned debate over whether he should live or die.
Animal rights activists argue that he should be given a lethal injection rather than brought up suffering the humiliation of being treated as a domestic pet.
Activists argue that it is inappropriate for a predator, known for its fierceness and ability to fend for itself in the wild, to be snuggled
"The zoo must kill the bear," said spokesman Frank Albrecht. "Feeding by hand is not species-appropriate but a gross violation of animal protection laws."
When Knut was born in December, his mother ignored him and his brother, who died. Zoo officials intervened, choosing to raise the cub themselves.
But Albrecht and other activists fret that it is inappropriate for a predator, known for its fierceness and ability to fend for itself in the wild, to be snuggled, bottle-fed and made into a commodity by zookeepers.
They argue that current treatment of the cub is inhumane and could cause him future difficulties interacting with fellow polar bears. "They cannot domesticate a wild animal," added Ruediger Schmiedel, head of the Foundation for Bears.
The charity cites a similar case of a baby sloth which was put to sleep after being abandoned by its mother last December in the Leipzig city zoo.
But Berlin Zoo holds different opinions. Its chief vet Andre Schuele says the activists' criticisms would make him angry if he could take them seriously. "Polar bears live alone in the wild. I see no logical reason why this bear should be killed."
Schuele also argued that given the increased rarity of wild polar bears, it makes sense to keep them alive in captivity so that they can be bred. "Polar bears are under threat of extinction, and if we feed the bear with a bottle, it has a good chance of growing up and perhaps becoming attractive as a stud for other zoos," he said.
Knut, who recently made the official A-list when he was pictured by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz for an environmental protection campaign, is scheduled to make his public debut at the zoo in the next few days.