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This week we had the company of Little Bear, the 5yo's Kindergarten class mascot. The 5yo wanted an adventure, so we went to the zoo.
Table of contents
He was lying next to his pool, alone in the outdoor space he usually shared with three female bears. He appeared relaxed, perhaps enjoying the thin, mid-March sunshine. Then he hopped up, as if bitten, his left hind-leg twitching. He started turning in a tight circle, like he was trying to get whatever it was that had his limb in its grip.
Some of those watching laughed. But the laughter broke off as the spasms in his leg grew in violence. The convulsions spread up his body, taking control of his back, his neck, his head. He looked like he was being pulled by invisible ropes, first sideways over the rocks, and then down into the water with a muted splash.
That was when the screaming started. He was drowning.
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The shouts of the visitors grew more urgent, as though they believed some superhuman zookeeper could dive in to rescue the kg bear. Then bubbles erupted to the surface as the air in his lungs was expelled — and he was still, floating face-down in the pool. A hump of white back protruded from the water like an iceberg, while his legs and head were suspended in the dank, greenish pool. By the time zoo staff arrived to cordon off the enclosure and lead away the horrified crowd, it was clear that Knut was dead.
And they were all aimed in one direction: at the Berlin Zoological Garden. Now, in an unlikely alliance, those who opposed keeping animals in captivity were united with regular zoo-goers in condemning the way Knut had been kept. Many claimed to have seen his death coming. Knut was just over four years old when he died, and not yet fully grown.
Male polar bears do not reach their full size until they are at least eight years old, by which time they can weigh around kg and be 2.
55 Zany Children's Books About the Zoo
In the wild, most live for around 15 to 18 years, and some up to So Knut, although already three or four times the weight of the average man, was still only a boy by polar bear standards when the fatal seizures came. His death was premature. With only a short time to decide, the zookeepers rescued the cubs — blind, pink, and the size of guinea pigs — using fishing nets.
Of course, bears can die at all ages. Young males in the wild have a hard time — usually pushed into independence by their mothers at the age of two, they must struggle to survive in the harsh conditions of the arctic. But Knut did not have to struggle to survive. His fish were tossed to him daily, along with meat, fruit, bread, and — his favourite — croissants. His sudden demise was a mystery. T his is the paradox of the modern zoo: although they promise nature, they are necessarily unnatural. We visit them in search of the unpredictable, the vital — the sublime that cannot be found in the clockwork world we have built for ourselves.
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Yet they are made by humans, with all the artifice, technology and tools at our disposal. The lion and the zebra in the zoo will never meet in mortal struggle as they do daily on the Serengeti, but instead each is carefully contained, their needs met by plans, plumbing, and delivery vans. Zoos have redefined their mission since the days of the menagerie, when people were content to show animals as spectacles and subjugates. Today, keeping wild animals behind bars demands justification beyond amazing or amusing us, and this is made on three grounds: research, education, and conservation.
Each of these depends upon an idea of nature out there, beyond the city limits — a nature to be researched and understood; a nature about which we can and should be educated; and a nature that zoos want to help us conserve. His father, Lars, was born in a zoo in Munich and his mother, Tosca, was an East German circus bear, captured in Canada as a cub. Neither had known the struggles and satisfactions of living to adulthood in the Arctic wilderness. Knut was one of two cubs born to Tosca in Berlin zoo in December She rejected both of them, leaving them outside on a rock while she retreated into her den.
The zoo was faced with either letting nature take its course — which would mean the death of both bears — or intervening and raising them by hand. He died unnamed.
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Knut, however, flourished. The first 44 days of his life he spent in an incubator, fed every two hours with formula milk enriched with cod liver oil. At two months old, Knut was starting to look like a proper little bear. Berlin zoo regularly released pictures of his puppyish antics, to the delight of local newspapers. But Knut was still deemed too young to face the public in person. In fact, the zoo should kill the baby bear.
The Berlin zoo is ensuring that the bear will be disturbed for the rest of its life. He will always be fixated on the keeper. A cute bundle of bear is a one-off photo-op; a cute bundle of bear threatened with impending doom is a story. Neither was correct: not only had Albrecht the activist been misquoted, but Berlin zoo would not have listened to him anyway. He was an animal star.
T he following day, Christina Meier was there with her camera. She had read about Knut in the paper and, as she lives close to the zoo, decided to see him for herself. Soon she was visiting Knut daily. The very relationship that had troubled others, surprised and enchanted her. A lion or a gorilla might occasionally throw the visitor a contemptuous glance, but otherwise the animals inhabited a mental space entirely separate to ours.
Meier started contributing to a blog about Knut run by the local television company. But it was loosely moderated, with discussions frequently degenerating into diatribes. She saw it as a kind of duty, bringing news of the little bear to those too far away to visit in person.
Her site has had nearly two million hits, from more than , visitors in plus countries. The living teddy bear appeared in newspapers, magazines and television shows around the world, even making it to the April cover of Vanity Fair alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, in a photomontage by Annie Leibovitz. Their play — tug of war with old boots, or splashing together in the pool — awoke the ancient fantasy of wildness tamed, of a nature reconciled to humanity. Summer, 9 years old Canada. Today I had tons of fun when I saw the bears I was so wowed there was three Cubs together climbing the trees it looked like they were racing.
Well I had fun bye. Monica North Carolina. This was an amazing experience! What a slight to see all these bears. Tasha and Jordan Clartheir. It was an amazing first stop on our honeymoon! The Cubs were so cute and Felix was adorable! Thank you for a once in a life time experience! We enjoyed every minute. Miranda and Frederick Switzerland. We especially made a detour to be able to go on this trip and it was definitely worth it!
Thank you very much for this great experience! Thank you for a great time. It was amazing to see these beautiful bears. We will never forget what we saw here.