| Snatched from the jaws of death: Zoo rescues cubs after confused polar bear mother EATS her two babies
| Wednesday, January 9, 2008
By ANDREW MALONE
The giant polar bear looks like a mother tenderly caring for her newborn.
As Vera emerges from her den at Nuremberg Zoo, she carries her tiny cub - believed to weigh less than 8lb - by the scruff of its neck.
But rather than a loving encounter this was, in fact, the final scene from an extraordinary drama involving primeval nature, a controversial zoo experiment and a tragic outcome.
Moments later, Vera began violently swinging the cub round her head. When she dumped it in the den, keepers moved in to rescue the cub.
An attempt to force the bears to raise their cubs as nature intended has already led to two others being eaten by their confused mother, Wilma.
This grisly find, which keepers discovered yesterday, forced them to move in on Vera and - finally - check on her cub.
It's an ironically late move. Managers at the German zoo had previously announced that the cubs would not be bottle-fed as bears in captivity often are.
Even when they later realised that the mothers had failed to bond with their offspring-officials said it was vital that the tiny cubs should be reared "naturally", even admitting they would leave them to starve.
In the wild, cubs whom the mother cannot care for are often killed and then eaten - protein is not to be wasted when the carnivores have to survive temperatures of -70c.
Last weekend, zoo staff became worried when Vera did not appear to be feeding her cub, which she had hidden in a man-made den carved out of rock inside her enclosure.
Wilma's cubs had also remained inside their den.
But the zoo refused to check on them, saying they did not want repeats of "Knut-mania" - a reference to the worldwide outcry after a baby polar bear faced starvation at Berlin Zoo last year.
Abandoned by his mother at birth, animal rights activists claimed that Knut should die rather than be raised by humans.
But zoo officials disagreed, rearing him by hand in defiance of death threats by extremists.
Nuremberg officials took a sterner line on the raising of their cubs.
As radio phone-ins and internet sites were bombarded with pleas to save the tiny animals, deputy director Helmut Maegdefrau insisted they would not intervene.
"If you don't let the mothers practise, they'll never learn how to bring up their cubs," he said.
"If we were to keep checking, we would disturb them and make it more likely that something goes wrong." Yet something had already gone wrong. On Monday morning, zoo staff heard Wilma pawing at the gates of her den, where it was believed she was raising her litter.
Keepers had assumed that there was no crying from her cubs because they were content and fed.
But when zoo keepers let Wilma into a separate area to investigate, the den was empty.
Wilma's customarily ravenous appetite had also disappeared and the obvious conclusion was drawn.
Last night, Vera's surviving cub was being examined by vets in case being thrown about by its mother had caused internal injuries.
Now the zoo is facing just as rough a ride from an outraged international community.
Let's hope that Vera's sole surviving cub will grow up as healthy and happy as the now one-year-old Knut who has his own TV show and blog - and not care whether it is raised by humans holding bottles of milk.
|posted by Moderator Londen time 9:05 AM