Polar bear cub makes Berlin zoo debut

BERLIN (Reuters) - A polar bear cub took its first hesitant steps outside its enclosure at the Tierpark Berlin zoo on Friday, stumbling awkwardly into a rock-lined pool under the watchful gaze of her mother, nine-year-old Tonja.

The bear was born on December 1 but has spent three and a half months living in darkness with her mother inside her enclosure. Born deaf and blind, polar bear cubs require intensive maternal nurturing.

“The bond between them is very close,” said the zoo’s polar bear keeper Florian Sicks. “Tonja is a very good mother, taking incredibly good care of her cub, never letting her out of her sight. We can’t complain.”

The zoo, which has not yet named the cub, expects her to be a major draw from Monday, when she first goes on public show.

Tonja and her daughter will stay together for another two years, when the cub will be sent to another zoo.

Wolodja, the cub’s father, will play no role in raising the cub, as is normal for the species. He has already moved to a zoo in the Netherlands.

Polar bears are an increasingly endangered species as climate change melts ever more of their icy northern habitat.

The German capital, the symbol of which is a bear, has a long history with polar bears, the most famous of which was Knut. Born in 2006 and hand-raised by his keeper after his mother rejected him, Knut sparked worldwide “Knutmania” but died young in 2011.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; editing by Jason Neely