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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 17:55 GMT
Baby bear becomes media star
By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Berlin

Knut the baby polar bear on public view
As the ice melts Knut melts German hearts
"We want Knut, he's so sweet!" shouted a group of children, who were visiting Berlin's Zoo.

The children had seen pictures of Knut on television, and they rushed here on Friday to catch a glimpse of the tiny polar bear. After all, this was a historic moment for the polar bear cub.

Amid all the media hype, here he was, a fluffy white ball, emerging for his first walk under the public gaze.

"I think he's lovely and cuddly, he's so adorable," said Cynthia, 14.

Fans mobilised

The polar bear has been dubbed "Cute Knut" by the media, and Germans have been eagerly following his progress on television, and the internet.

"I've been looking on the web every day to see how Knut is doing," said Annette Vodinsky. "I was shocked when I heard the news that an animal rights activist said he should be killed. No way. I am so glad he's alive," she said.

Knut the baby polar bear on public view
Knut ambled up to his keeper and showed his affection
Dozens of journalists and camera crews pressed against the railing to catch a glimpse of Knut.

"There he is!" one girl screamed. "He's even sweeter than when I saw him on TV!"

Knut was born in the zoo last December. After his mother rejected him, and his brother died, Knut was brought up and bottle-fed by his keeper, Thomas Doerflein.

It is clear that Knut is still very attached to his keeper. After clambering around the logs, sniffing around on the grassy ground and drinking some water, Knut ambled up to his keeper and chewed his fingers.

The polar bear, aged three and a half months, looked healthy and sprightly as he wandered around the bear's pen at the zoo. Such was the media interest that on the sidelines reporters were conducting live television and radio interviews as Knut made his world premiere.

Knut has been the subject of a heated debate. Earlier this week, one animal rights activist said Knut should be killed, rather than be hand-reared and treated as a domestic pet.

But children at the zoo said they were happy he was still alive. "I was so sad when I heard he should be put to sleep," said 15-year-old Nadine. "He's only a bear, and he can't help that."

Media attention

"It is absolutely stupid that someone suggested that he should be killed," said Dr Ragnar Kuehne, a biologist who works at the zoo.

Knut toys
Children are clamouring for the cuddly toys
"I'm sure that person will change his mind when he sees Knut. He's doing well, he's eating and he now weighs nine kilos. He ate his first piece of fruit yesterday," Dr Kuehne explained.

"Of course, Knut is still following his father, the handler, Thomas Doerflein, around all the time, but he will later become more independent." When the keeper called out, Knut ran up to him and he was never far behind Mr Doerflein's legs.

Knut has become a media superstar. The polar bear cub has got his own television series and video podcast and he has even been pictured by the celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz for an environmental campaign.

At the zoo a man was selling soft, cuddly toys of Knut. "With climate change and with all the ice caps melting, he would not have had any chance to survive in the wild," said Gerd Gall. "Knut is much better off here."

And the cuddly toys have been selling like hot cakes.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he was adopting Knut under the zoo's sponsorship scheme and he wants to use him as a mascot for an international conference on climate change.

"It's amazing that so many people have been interested in the fate of this little bear," said Mr Gabriel.

"Knut's family in the Arctic are in great danger. There are only around 20-25,000 polar bears left. Last year, the birthrate declined by 10% and it's obvious, if there are no ice caps, there will be no polar bears. Knut is a symbol for our battle against climate change," he said.

Knut will be back tomorrow at the zoo, and members of the public will be able to watch him from 1100 to 1300 every day. "He's here to stay," said Ragnar Kuehne.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Meet Knut, the baby polar bear drawing crowds in Berlin



SEE ALSO
Berlin rallies behind baby bear
20 Mar 07 |  Europe

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