Berlin Zoo readies for polar bear cub's public debut

Knut the polar bear cub has his own video podcast and TV series. Photographer of the stars Annie Leibovitz came to take his portrait. Now, his handlers are working on an eagerly awaited debut before the clamoring public.

The Berlin Zoo's baby bear is the German capital's hottest celebrity at the tender age of 15 weeks.

Zoo officials met Wednesday to discuss when the button-eyed cub could be brought out for the public to see. Thus far he has endeared himself through pictures on the zoo's Web site and in newspapers showing him gnawing a brush and wrestling with a soccer ball.

"I think that people will be able to see the bear by this weekend," Andreas Ochs, a veterinarian with the Berlin Zoo said on N-24 television, noting that he would have to be shown with his handler and only for brief periods throughout the day.

"Certainly, the public is going to have to be patient, as there will be a huge interest," Ochs said.

Fascination with the 9-kilogram (nearly 19-pound) bear has only grown in recent days, after headlines generated by an animal activist who insisted that the cub should have been left to die after his mother ignored him and his brother - who later died - after their birth in December. They were the first polar bears born at the zoo in 33 years.

Zoo officials intervened, instead, choosing to raise the cub themselves through bottle-feeding and keeping the cub in an incubator.

The story earlier this week prompted quick condemnations from the zoo, politicians and animal rights groups who argued that although the bear would be more used to humans than his counterparts, the world needs all the polar bears it can get.

"Polar bears are under threat of extinction, and if we feed the bear with a bottle, it has a good chance of growing up and perhaps becoming attractive as a stud for other zoos," Andre Schuele, another veterinarian at the zoo said, reports AP.

The fuss over Knut continued on Wednesday with the country's largest newspaper, Bild, publishing a Knut poster, matched by Berlin's own B.Z. tabloid.

Knut, who recently posed for a photo shoot with Leibovitz for an environmental protection campaign, will star in a TV series documenting his life on Berlin's RBB public television station starting Sunday.

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