November 2007

The world’s most famous polar bear

By Isabella Hatkoff
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I wonder if Thomas Dorflein, the zookeeper at the Berlin Zoo, ever thought he would spend half a year as a foster parent to a polar bear? When Tosca, a female polar bear at the zoo, gave birth to two healthy cubs, she showed little interest in her offspring. The veterinarians and zookeepers had to step in quickly to save them. After one of the cubs died of a fever, Dorflein became the around-the-clock caregiver for Knut. Any parent can empathize with Dorflein's long nights and the constant feeding, grooming and cleaning that Knut required. The zookeeper's own family had to move to the back burner as the baby polar bear's needs demanded almost every minute of his foster father's time and energy. And when one animal rights activist declared that zookeepers should never have intervened to save the cub, little Knut became a worldwide celebrity.

In Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World, it's the details that make the story memorable the nine-part photograph of Knut eating his first meal of kitten food and milk, his struggles with teething pain and his rollicking fun in the sandbox will remind young readers of the similarities between humans and their furry mammal relatives. Juliana, Isabella and Craig Hatkoff, authors of the popular Owen & Mzee, join forces here with Gerald Ulrich, CEO of the Berlin Zoo, to turn this story of one adorable and irresistible polar bear into much more. They highlight the effect of human civilization and global warming on the habitat of all polar bears and pose a painful question: Is it possible that polar bears could become extinct during our lifetime?

Detailed back matter will send interested readers deeper into the lives of polar bears and to scientific information about ecological activism. One very cute, very vulnerable polar bear cub might just do what the politicians seem unable to do: mobilize humans to pay attention to the effect they have on the Earth.

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