Polar Bear Superstar

Meet Knut. The polar bear cub who is just the most famous Berliner right now. And being the city's mascot, he can most happily claim Kennedy's war cry 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' as his own. (That's him with the Teamgeist, and if you click the blog title, it will take you to a youtube movie of his frolicking.)

There is a story to our little hero. He was rejected along with his late twin brother by their mother at birth. After his bro died, he has been raised by hand by the Berlin Zoo keepers, and is now several months old.

Animal rights campaigners (the same sort that don't want our stray dogs massacred) had different opinions about him. When he was rejected by his mother, they had wanted him put down. The argument was that that was what would have happened in nature anyway, and a human-reared polar bear would not be a psychologically normal polar bear. Following their arguments, the Berlin zoo had put down a baby sloth that had been so rejected.

Well yes, he's not going to be a psychologically normal polar bear. A normal polar bear catches seals on arctic ice-floes somewhere in Nunavut, not right in the middle of Berlin zoo. When he is going to spend his whole life in zoos among humans, his polar bear instincts are not going to get an airing. It is better for him, and his keepers and the public, that he behave like an overgrown puppy. That way he'll be fed and cleaned and vaccinated.

But this raises a moral question. Does the way of nature demand that we not interfere at all? An abandoned human baby will die unattended, but that is how nature is. Cold and harsh. But we would shiver with abhorrence were something like that to happen in human society. So why the double standard for animals?

An animal that was born in a zoo is morally under our care. Though it will be our moral and ecological responsibility to leave it and its jungle alone when in the wild, it is the opposite in a zoo. Leaving it to die because it is 'natural' would be the supreme sin, unless we decide the same law applies to human babies. We take care of the most infirm human and abhor euthanasia; is it not within the same morality to take care of every creature that is at our mercy?

I think we can be happier looking at more photos of hypercute Knut:


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