NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Knut, the celebrity polar bear cub being hand-raised in a German zoo, is taking on a new role with his own Web site and book to be used in the campaign against global warming.
New York-based Turtle Pond Publications and the Berlin Zoo on Monday said they had signed a deal for the publishing rights to Knut, who has drawn attention to the plight of polar bears amid worries that global warming is melting their habitat.
Knut was born at the Berlin Zoo almost five months ago but was rejected by his mother, so he is being raised by handler Thomas Dorflein who sleeps in his cage and hand feeds him porridge.
He hit global headlines after an animal rights campaigner said hand-rearing polar bears violated animal rights.
Craig Hatkoff, founder of Turtle Pond, said real animal stories were a great way to portray a message. His company also owns the rights to the story of baby hippopotamus Owen who was orphaned during the tsunami in southeast Asia and befriended by a giant tortoise, Mzee, at a Kenyan wildlife park.
"Knut has come along at a time when the environment is front and center of everyone's agenda and he stands out as an environmental icon that can reach young and old," Hatkoff said in a telephone interview.
"We are hoping that a little polar bear can help the world de-polarize the complex issues ... and to raise awareness of the issues in the global climate debate."
Hatkoff said publishers Scholastic would release his book, entitled "Knut: How one little polar bear captivated the world," with Knut's story and photographs first in German and then in English later this year.
Turtle Pond also plans to launch a Knut Web site mid-year while the polar bear is still a cute and cuddly cub.
With the photogenic polar bear appearing in newspapers and television stations worldwide, Knut has become a brand, star of an ever-expanding range of merchandise such as gummy bear candies, T-shirts, stuffed bears and figurines.
Earlier this month the Berlin Zoo launched its campaign "Respect Habitats.Knut" and unveiled a Knut logo intended to be used as a seal of approval for positive steps, actions and strategies that deal with environmental challenges.
Gerald Uhlich, chief executive of the Berlin Zoo, said a portion of the proceeds of the publishing deal on Knut would be invested in initiatives to achieve this goal.
"Surely, Knut will win the hearts of millions of readers and raise their awareness to environmental issues across the world," he said in a statement.