Please look after this bear

When Knut's mother rejected him, zoo keepers stepped into the breach. Now animal rights activists want him killed.

Knut the polar bear enjoys himself while he still can. Photograph: Getty images
Germany and shooting bears: haven't we been here before.

Remember Bruno, the brown bear gunned down last year by hunters in the forests of Bavaria after a summer of sheep- and honey-stealing and general mischief as he rampaged his way across the German and Austrian alps?

Now it may be Knut's turn. The polar bear cub was born in Berlin's Zoologischer Garten in December. After he was rejected by his mother and his brother died of an infection, zoo hands decided to rear him themselves. A keeper moved in to Knut's cage to care for him around the clock. The keeper, Thomas Doerflein, even plays him Elvis Presley ballads on his guitar, saying he has a penchant for You're the Devil in Disguise.

He has become the biggest media darling Berlin has known for years, with photographs of his progress appearing in the national papers on a daily basis and the star photographer Annie Leibovitz dropping in to take his picture. He is due to make his public debut any day now, and Berliners are expected to storm the zoo.

It seemed like a story that could only have a happy ending: Knut would grow up and wow zoo visitors, who would always remember him as the bear that almost didn't make it.

But now animal rights activists are calling for him to be put down - using the poison T16, no less. Why? Because bottle-feeding him by hand, snuggling him and generally suppressing his natural predator instincts - to be fierce and fend for himself - is not "species appropriate, but a gross violation of animal protection laws", according to Frank Albrecht, an activist.

He has appealed: "The zoo must kill the bear," and has received backing from a flurry of other campaigners.

Kate Connolly reports for the Guardian from Berlin


Kate Connolly

The GuardianTramp

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