German polar bear cub makes her debut

April 8, 2008 7:00:20 AM PDT

With all the fanfare of a movie premiere or record release, Nuremberg city and zoo officials on Tuesday introduced Germany's latest winsome polar bear cub to a public eager for its first live glimpse of her.

The furry 4-month-old imp has been tugging at their heartstrings by video and photograph for months.

"Not only Nuremberg, but the whole world has been in Flocke fever," said the city's deputy mayor Horst Foerther. He said the cub has attracted millions of hits on Google since the zoo decided to raise her by hand in January.

Flocke, born Dec. 11 and then rejected by her mother, made her public debut before television cameras at the Nuremberg zoo just as interest in the Berlin zoo's now fully grown polar bear sensation, Knut, seems to be waning.

Knut was abandoned by his own mother in 2006 and was raised by zookeepers. He became something of a Berlin zoo franchise, attracting more than a million visitors and inspiring a stuffed-animal, a Vanity Fair cover with Leonardo DiCaprio, a children's book and even a feature film.

But Knut has gone from roly-poly and cute to chunky and a little dangerous - a transition not lost on Flocke's keepers who advertised her introduction to the public with posters reading "Knut was yesterday."

Flocke - German for "Flake," as in snowflake - was taken from her mother, Vera, Jan. 8 for hand-rearing after Vera was seen tossing the cub around her enclosure. The zoo was worried that Vera could harm or even kill the newborn.

Aware of Knut's star power, the zoo quickly set up its own polar bear cub Web site with regular updates - Flocke is a girl; Flocke's eyes open; Flocke learns to swim; Flocke walks on grass, for example - accompanied with photos and video for her adoring fans.

Now about 42 pounds, Flocke has been romping around in a private enclosure but will be put on public display starting Wednesday.

Zoo director Dag Encke thanked people Tuesday for their interest in the cute cub, but implored them to use the interest in Flocke to force action on climate change, which is affecting the habitat of wild polar bears.

In that sense, Encke said at a nationally televised news conference with some 430 reporters, "Flocke is no more a polar bear, but Flocke is not a person - Flocke is an obligation, or a window into an obligation," he said.