Picture Post: Polar position? Flocke, Nuremberg Zoo, 08.04.08

Click to follow
The Independent Online

You might not think it, to look at these cuddly pictures, but the prospect of a polar bear "war" was looming large over Germany yesterday.

Flocke, a recently born cub who caught the public imagination by being rejected by parents and raised by humans, was making a long-awaited public debut – accompanied by her keepers, including Horst Maussner (right), before a 350-strong crowd of excited press photographers, TV camera crews and cheering fans. The four month-old female, whose name translates as "snowflake", has been described by the local media as the arch rival, in the battle for Germany's public affection, to Knut – another polar bear cub, who was born at Berlin Zoo in 2006 and also raised entirely by humans.

At present, Knut can still claim the title of world's most famous polar bear (after all, a Hollywood film has been made about him), but Flocke is catching up fast. Her backers spent yesterday plastering Nuremberg with hundreds of pink posters bearing a suitably cuddly image of Flocke and the barbed message, "Knut was yesterday".

The city proudly gave out the news that all 600 of the special-edition Flocke posters, costing €10 each, had sold out within minutes. It insisted that the baby bear was excellent publicity for a city hitherto famous for Nazi party rallies and the post-Second World War trial of Nazi war criminals.

Back in Berlin, the city's zoo tried to keep a brave face. "As far as we are concerned, every city can have its Knut, we would just like to point out that we were first," a spokesman said.

Unfortunately, Knut is now overweight, without a mate, and spends much of his time standing on his hind legs playing to a gallery of adoring zoo visitors. He was chastised in the city's popular press this week for killing carp that had been put in a pool in his enclosure to keep the waterweeds down. And if that wasn't enough, some noisy animal rights activists and zoologists have claimed that allowing Knut to be raised by humans has caused the bear to develop psychopathic tendencies.

Those concerns were also voiced at Nuremberg zoo yesterday: a group of animal rights protesters clad in polar bear suits greeted Flocke's appearance with placards bearing the message, "Born to be Wild".