For Germans, Knut Is Almost Too Cute to Bear

Germany is agog over a polar bear cub named Knut — as in "cute Knut." The cub and his brother were abandoned by their mother after their birth, and the brother bear later died. But Knut has found a home and many fans at the Berlin Zoo.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Now we are going to stay with Emily of minutes because she's been on the cute Euro mammal beat this week in Berlin.

(Soundbite of children)

SIMON: That's a group of third graders chanting like they're about to storm the barricades because they want to see the biggest new star at the Berlin Zoo, a polar bear cub named Knut or Cute Knut, as he has been nicknamed. And Knut isn't just cute. He's a survivor. His mother didn't want him around and because what might be a (unintelligible) quotation in a tabloid newspaper, he's also looked like he's endangered for some of this week. Emily, why so much attention to Cute Knut?

EMILY HARRIS: Oh, he's really, really cute. He is a baby polar bear. He's very cute. He's the first baby polar bear to be born at the Berlin Zoo for 30 years. But then you've got all the stuff you mentioned: the drama, the mother rejecting the twin brother dying, and this tall-bearded zookeeper moving in to take care of him and playing him Elvis songs on his guitar.

But the attention really went international this week when a popular, very popular newspaper in Germany quoted a man identified as an animal rights activist saying that Knut shouldn't be raise this way and in fact he should be killed.

SIMON: Was that a valid quote?

HARRIS: That was - that is exactly what the newspaper said. The activist, who is not associated with a group or anything like that, later said that all he really meant was that it was not appropriate for Knut to be raised this way, but he wasn't actually calling for him to be murdered at this point. The headline was also very, very, very inflammatory - will sweet Knut be killed by injection? It's a very popular tabloid...

SIMON: Film at 11, yeah.

HARRIS: Really get people's juices flowing. Oh, and there has been film. Not of the - not of any execution, but there has been film of Knut all over the place.

SIMON: Yeah. So it just might have been one guy who was misquoted anyway.

HARRIS: It was just one guy, although - who said that much, but there is a real debate about whether - how much humans should intervene in raising animals, even in they're going to be kept in captivity. And that's also got - ratcheted rather high. One director of another German zoo refused to do an interview with NPR because he said at this point he does not advise bottle raising baby bears. He doesn't think that's appropriate. And he said he'd gotten such a negative reaction from the public that he was now fearful for the safety of his family.

SIMON: Emily, all I can say is, aw, thanks.

HARRIS: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Emily Harris in Berlin.

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