In zoos: handrearing or 'acting like in nature'

Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2008 02:30 am
Zoo leaves polar bear cubs to starve

Allan Hall
Sunday January 6, 2008
The Observer

Three tiny polar bear cubs are being allowed to starve to death after a zoo took the controversial decision not to rear them by hand if their mother continued to neglect them.

Mother bears Vera and Wilma gave birth three weeks and five weeks ago at Nuremberg Zoo in southern Germany. It is thought they have six cubs between them. Wilma is displaying the signs of being a good mother, but Vera shows no interest in her young.

She frequently strolls out of her cave, where the hungry cries of her babies can be heard from within, and she lazes for hours outside her lair.
It was just such neglect from his mother that propelled a cub called Knut to international fame at another German zoo last year. Abandoned by his mother at birth, animal rights activists said he should die rather than be raised by humans.

Berlin Zoo officials disagreed and Knut became a sensation. He has been on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine and a Hollywood film company is negotiating the rights to his story.

Nuremberg, however, is taking a hard line on Vera's cubs. As people bombard the zoo with demands that keepers intervene unless Vera's mothering skills pick up, deputy director Helmut Maegdefrau says he wants 'no Knutmania' at the zoo.

'We expect to be branded as being cruel to animals. The fact is in nature, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong,' he said. 'If you don't let the mothers practise, they'll never learn how to bring up their cubs. We're cautiously optimistic. Vera does come out of her cave occasionally but the cubs are crying loudly, and she walks back in when they do. If we were to keep checking, we would disturb them and make it more likely that something goes wrong.'

He said he wasn't opposed to hand-rearing in principle but that it had to be decided on a case-by-case basis. 'Berlin Zoo did a terrific job hand-rearing Knut from day one. But we want to avoid Knutmania at all costs. If people spend hours queuing up to see a polar bear cub, there's something wrong. We've got a baby giraffe too, that's just as cute.'

Bernhard Blaskiewitz, Berlin Zoo director, said he disagreed with the stance taken in Nuremberg.

'This is not some new fad,' he said. 'We hand-reared a bear in 1986 that now lives in Serbia. That is responsible breeding and care. We have no concerns for the welfare of Knut.'
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2008 02:30 am
Pics from the print edited (The Obsever, 06.01.08, page 4)

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Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2008 01:30 pm
'We expect to be branded as being cruel to animals. The fact is in nature, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong,' he said. 'If you don't let the mothers practise, they'll never learn how to bring up their cubs.

I think this is rubbish. Fact is, these animals are in captivity and not in
their normal environment. Yes, in nature, cruel things happen, but these
animals are kept and raised in a zoo, where the confinement to a
rather small space can be very depressing to the point that they show
abnormal motherly instinct.

To say, "we need to let nature takes its course" is quite absurd. I hope
the zoo director gets enough pressure from the public to intervene and
feed the babies. Very cruel if they don't!
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Sun 6 Jan, 2008 02:04 pm
According to the Nuremberg papers (2) the locals support the zoo's decisson.
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Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 07:35 am
In the light of Global Warming and the declining polar bear population in the wild, I'm wondering whether the neglectful mother's genes should be saved?

I can see arguing both pro and con on the genetic level.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 01:09 am
Two cubes have died - by unknown reason, perhaps a virus it said - by now. They may have been eaten by their mother.

One - with a different mother - is still alive.

(Photo from the 'N├╝rnberger Nachrichten', 08.01.08, page 9)
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 10:03 am
And the latest about the third cub:

German zoo relents on bottle-feeding after cub deaths - Summary [/size]

Posted : Tue, 08 Jan 2008 15:36:01 GMT
Author : DPA

Nuremberg, Germany - A German zoo under fire for allowing two polar bear cubs to die acted to save a third cub on Tuesday by deciding to raise it by bottle. Keepers at Nuremberg zoo in southern Germany separated the three- week-old cub from its mother, Vera, after she became increasingly nervous about looking after her offspring.

"The cub is in good health and has been well-fed," zoo director Dag Encke said after veterinarians examined the baby.

The move came a day after two cubs born to another polar bear died. The zoo had warned in advance that it would not "rescue" them after their mother Vilma began behaving "strangely" amid indications the cubs were sick.

The deaths came a year after Berlin Zoo scored a publicity coup by saving the life of Knut, a polar bear cub that was raised by bottle after being abandoned by its mother at birth.

Knut generated huge international interest and massive revenues for the zoo, which saw attendances soar to a record 3.1 million in 2007 as visitors sought a glimpse of the cuddly animal cavorting with its keeper.

Vera, who gave birth to her cub around the same time as Vilma, was spotted Tuesday strolling across her enclosure, carrying her cub in her mouth.

Encke said the decision to remove the cub from its mother was taken after she displayed signs of anxiety at not finding a safe place for the cub in the polar bear enclosure.

"I don't know if we can bear to allow the little polar bear to starve to death if his mother Vera abandons him," Nuremberg Deputy Mayor Horst Foerther said earlier in the day.

The zoo had earlier defended its action to let the other cubs die, with a spokesman saying it had "acted absolutely correctly" under guidelines laid down by the European Animal Conservation and Breeding Programme.

The Bavarian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Monday attacked the zoo, saying it had breached its duty of care to the cubs.

"You can't move polar bears into artificial surroundings and then act as if they are still living wild," said the society president, Berthold Merkel.

The "rescue" of Knut in December 2006 triggered fierce debate among animal experts, some of whom said he should have been allowed to die rather than be raised by humans.

Copyright: dpa - Deutsche Presse Agentur
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Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 01:41 pm
Surprise! Motherhood takes more than instinct.
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