Video: Zookeepers hand-feed polar bear cub

updated 1/9/2008 5:13:41 PM ET 2008-01-09T22:13:41

The Berlin zoo's polar bear, Knut — who garnered worldwide fame by being hand-raised by his keepers from a pint-sized fluffball to adulthood — now has company.

The Nuremberg zoo says it has begun bottle-feeding a 4-week-old polar bear cub that was taken away from its mother, named Vera, over fears she might harm it. "The safety of the young animal is the first priority," said deputy zoo director Helmut Maegdefrau.

The cub, which has not yet been named, is "lively, strong and well-fed," Maegdefrau said Wednesday. Its eyes are not yet open, and its sexual organs are not completely developed, but zoo officials are guessing that it's a girl, he told reporters.

Four keepers are caring for the baby bear, who weighed in at 3.75 pounds (1.75 kilograms), feeding it high-fat milk every four hours. "So far, it can only crawl a little," Maegdefrau said, noting that the cub does little more at the moment than sleep.

The cub in Bavaria is the first in Germany to be hand-raised by its keepers since Knut, who became a celebrity after being rescued in late 2006 when his mother rejected him. Thousands of visitors to Berlin's zoo avidly followed his growth from a roly-poly cub to a full-grown adult.

Concern about ‘confused’ mother
Another polar bear at the Nuremberg zoo, Vilma, gave birth around the same time as Vera but is believed to have killed and eaten her cubs earlier this week because they were sick.

In part because of Vilma’s behavior, the new cub will not be returned to Vera, out of fear that it also might be eaten. The controversial decision to hand-raise the cub was made after Vera was seen carrying the cub around the enclosure in her jaws.

Image: Mother and cub
Thomas Langer  /  Getty Images
Vera, a mother polar bear at the Nuremberg zoo, carries her cub around a zoo enclosure on Tuesday. Citing concern for the 4-week-old cub's safety, zookeepers took it away from Vera and are now hand-raising it.
"The mother was completely confused," Maegdefrau said.

The Berlin zoo celebrated Knut's first birthday on Dec. 5 — capping a year that saw zoo attendance up by 20 percent following Knut's public debut in March 2007.

Unlike Berlin, the Nuremberg zoo is seeking another motherless polar or brown bear cub to raise alongside Vera's newborn. "That would be the best for the animal's development," Maegdefrau said.

Vera's cub is expected to make its public debut by early April. Unlike Knut, who was named by the Berlin zoo, Nuremberg's deputy mayor wants to hold a public competition to name the new cub.

Knut could be a hard act to follow. The boisterous polar bear, who now weighs more than 265 pounds (120 kilograms), has his own blog and TV show, and has appeared in scores of articles worldwide, including the cover of the German Vanity Fair.

Too big to play with his keeper, Thomas Doerflein, he now has an enclosure all to himself.

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