The death last weekend of the world’s most famous polar bear, Knut, has reposed the ethical quandary of should man keep and raise animals in zoos. Wild Polar Bears can live to around 30 years old, but Knut died at the age of four. His post mortem suggests brain damage. Knut was born in 2006 in Berlin Zoo. He was raised by humans, one keeper in particular, with whom he bonded strongly. Animal rights activists have contended that he should have been put down when his mother rejected him rather than subject him to the unnatural and often numbingly boring existence of a large animal in a zoo. They suggest that the impact of excessive exposure to humans through being reared by hand and huge crowds would have inevitably provoked behavioral problems. One can argue that once born, the zoo had an obligation to aid in Knut’s survival, but the real issue is the zoo’s artificial environment and what that imposes on the animals. Are such animals being exhibited purely for profit and entertainment or do zoos provide a place of unique educational value and possibilities for preserving species, or could time effort and money be better spent in protecting animals and their habitats in the wild? It is estimated that profits increased by around 5 million Euros for Berlin Zoo since Knut’s birth. It should be noted, though, that much of the profit is returned to conservation projects in the field.
Having lived among wild animals in Africa, I probably have an inevitable bias towards maintaining them in their natural habitat. Animals raised in captivity are very rarely successfully released into the wild. With many/most species this is impossible. Is there a place for zoos in the education of our children? Possibly, and maybe more so for their advocacy role for animals in the wild. The long term forecast for Polar Bears is not good, so maybe all this media will have a positive impact on raising people’s concerns for these delightful animals. I would love to know your point of view.
How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World by Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff and Dr. Gerald R. Uhlichis a wonderful Picture Book about the life of Knut.
Knut’s mum was a rescued East German circus bear and when Knut was born he was around the size of a snowball. After his mother’s rejection, Knut would have most definitely died were it not for great veterinary care and then the zookeeper, Thomas Dorflein, who did some round the clock surrogate parenting for many months. Thomas fed him with a bottle like a human baby and taught him essentials like swimming. Kids and adults will fall in love with this adorable bear through the photo illustrations and simple, true story. I believe kids, especially animal lovers; from 5-11 will love this story.
I have a soft spot for Polar Bears, so while we are on the subject, I want to recommend a couple more great Picture Books.
Arctic Song by Miriam Moss and Illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway
This book takes you on a poetic journey of discovery of the Arctic and its inhabitants. In early spring a mother polar bear and her cubs emerge from their winter den. The cubs frolic and play in the snow but are captivated by a raven, which tells tales of the magic of whale song. Instead of following mum home the cubs set out in search of “whale song”. The caribou, walrus and arctic fox all take part in the search. This lyrical story of the arctic is beautifully illustrated with strong pictures of the various northern inhabitants.
Little Polar Bear Finds a Friend by Hans de Beer
The author has a wonderful Dutch name meaning bear! I hope that through this post you are starting to sense my passion for the natural world in its entire splendor. This book also contains many arctic animals for young children to encounter (maybe not as vividly as in a zoo, yet still meaningfully, I believe). The little Polar Bear, Lars, while searching for a playmate, gets caught in a trap and finds himself in a cargo plane full of arctic animals destined for a zoo. The great news is that Lars’ cage breaks open on landing and he is able to set free all the animals (you see why I like this one?). In so doing he finds the friend he has been searching for! I love the last illustration, which is four bear bottoms -2 large (Lars’ parents) and 2 small (Lars and his new friend).
This makes books 20-22 in the Read to Me Picture Book Challenge