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Culture

"We're Certain Knut Will Be a Big and Strong Polar Bear"

The antics of a cuddly polar bear cub named Knut at the Berlin zoo continue to make headlines worldwide. DW-WORLD.DE spoke to his veterinarian André Schüle about the Knut cult and the bear's future.

Knut has been an international star since his first public appearance

Knut has a happy roll in the sand at Berlin's zoo

DW-WORLD.DE: The Knut hype is enormous. Domestic and foreign media are reporting about the little polar bear daily. Star photographer Annie Leibowitz flew in from New York for a shoot and Italian leader Romano Prodi left the festivities marking the EU's 50th birthday early in order to visit Knut at the zoo. Now, there's even Knut-TV. What do you think about all the hype?

André Schüle: We're happy that we can finally show Knut to the public after we kept him secluded on the bear grounds for a long time. We're proud that so many visitors are coming and want to take pictures. Above all, we're happy that Knut is so healthy and fit that he can make an appearance everyday.

How do you explain the Knut cult? What makes a little polar bear such a special attraction?

For one, Knut perfectly embodies typical childlike characteristics: a round head, high forehead, a snub nose like a black button on a white background, fluffy ears -- everything that brings out people's protective instincts and triggers this feeling of "I like you." But it's also the fact that normally, polar bears that are raised by their mothers can only be seen outside of their cave when they're three to four months at the earliest. Since we hand fed Knut, we could show photos of a polar bear baby that is still very little.

Have you ever experienced a similar media uproar in your other work as a veterinarian?

Even Steiff has brought out a Knut bear

With respect to the media interest in Knut: no one in our zoo team has ever experienced this to date, with no animal.

Are the other patients even still interesting for you?

Of course. We have 14,000 animals here and every one of them is equally important and of equal distinctiveness. Knut is now no longer so much a patient. Initially, we had to check on him frequently. Now, we just follow his development. We take note of how much weight he gains and how much he eats. These things are of course exciting for us and of interest. But we still have enough time for all of the other animals.

What do Knut's patient records look like -- thick or thin?

It's very thin. At the beginning, there were phases in which he had bouts of fever and wasn't fully stable, just like babies do. Meanwhile, we veterinarians actually just write down his meals. His weight is registered once a day and his body temperature measured. Knut has been stable and healthy for a long time.

How long does such an orphan upbringing in captivity take?

The keepers will handle Knut for about another year. Then, he'll probably choose a path without human contact. We'll continue to tend to him and care for him from a distance, just like we do with the other bears in our zoo.

Keeper Thomas Dörflein has been caring for Knut since he was born in December 2006

Some animal-rights activists have said in the past weeks that the orphan upbringing of bears in captivity is inhumane. What do you think about such comments?

No zoo that has had the opportunity to raise such a healthy polar bear baby with hand feeding would have chosen otherwise. These so-called animal-rights activists are luckily a minority.

What happens when Knut grows up? He's not always going to remain so little and cuddly.

We're fairly certain that Knut will become a big and strong polar bear male. Other zoos are already lining up now to get him as a future breeding bear. We have Knut's father, Lars, as a breeding bear here in our zoo. He has proven that he does a good job. But you can't keep two male polar bears together on the same grounds. So when Knut is full-grown and faces his sexual maturity, we will make an effort to find a suitable zoo where Knut will have the opportunity to live with female polar bears and found a breeding group.

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