Berlin zoo polar bear makes public debut |

Berlin zoo polar bear makes public debut

Knut, the polar bear cub, looks around during its first public appearance in the Berlin Zoo on Friday, March 23, 2007. Television crews and photographers jockeyed with hundreds of excited children at Berlin's Zoo on Friday, all eager to for a first glimpse of the fuzzy white polar bear cub who has captured hearts across the globe. (AP Photo/Franka Bruns)

BERLIN (AP) — With a sniff and a stumble, Berlin Zoo’s irresistibly cuddly baby polar bear made his public debut Friday, delighting hundreds of excited children who packed around the pen’s railings.

“We want Knut! We want Knut!” chanted a group of third graders who came to see the zoo’s star, dubbed “cute Knut” by the German media.

Ambling cautiously over the uneven, grassy ground, Knut clambered over a log and sniffed curiously at the legs of his handler, Thomas Doerflein.

“I’m so happy to be able to see him today,” said Leila Klamann, 9, whose class was visiting the zoo. “And he’s so cute!”

Some children climbed nearby playground towers for a better view.

Born at the zoo on Dec. 5, the cub has already famous through his video podcast and TV series. Star photographer Annie Leibovitz also came to take his portrait for an environmental campaign.

Poking his nose into a stream, the 15-week-old cub appeared interested in exploring the pen Friday, but returned frequently to Doerflein, who has raised him by hand since his mother rejected him and his brother shortly after their birth. The other cub later died.

“He looks even better and sweeter than he does on TV,” said Julian Fuerster, 10. “And more cuddly.”

The fate of the nearly 19-pound bear stirred a media flap when an animal activist insisted the cub would have been better off dead than raised by humans. The zoo flatly rejected the idea.

“If you see the little bear, you’ll see it’s stupid to say something like that,” said Ragnar Kuehne, a zoo curator.

The general public will be able to see Knut beginning Saturday, when he is scheduled to make similar, brief appearances with his handler.

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