After Knut, meet Fritz, the polar bear melting German hearts

Move over Knut, there's a new über-cute polar bear in town. Meet Fritz, the three-month-old ball of fluff that a Berlin zoo is hoping will capture hearts around the world.

After Knut, meet Fritz, the polar bear melting German hearts
Fritz appears before the camera in January. Photo: DPA

Knut the polar bear shot to international stardom after he was abandoned by his mother and hand-reared in Berlin Zoo.

But the cuddly icon died suddenly of a suspected brain tumour in 2011 at the age of four, sparking grief amongst his army of fans.

East Berlin's rival Tierpark zoo announced Tuesday that its new cub – born on November 3rd – has been named Fritz after it emerged as top choice in a local radio competition among 10,000 suggestions from all over the globe.

Fritz is the shortened form of Friedrich, the equivalent in German of “Fred” or “Freddy”.

“I am very happy with the choice of the name – it's a short and cute name that foreign visitors will remember easily,” said the zoo's director Andreas Knieriem.

To the great relief of his keepers, Fritz has made it through the crucial first three months when a captive cub's chances of survival hang in the balance.

Tierpark is now hoping Fritz can provide a new mascot for a city which counts a bear as its heraldic symbol – a role that has been vacant since Knut's untimely demise.

A bronze statue of Knut now stands in the west Berlin Zoo, which earned millions of euros from visitors and merchandise.

At the height of his fame, Knut appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine and on German postage stamps.

Tierpark said visitors would not be able to catch a glimpse of Fritz and his parents, Tonja and Woldja, until the spring.

Its Arctic habitat threatened by global warming, the polar bear is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

A European Union breeding plan is attempting to boost numbers of the bear, whose population in the wild stands at around 26,000, according to the IUCN.

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Coronavirus: Four lions test positive at Barcelona zoo

Four lions at Barcelona Zoo, three of them older females, caught Covid-19 last month but suffered only mild symptoms and have since recovered, the Catalan animal park said.

Coronavirus: Four lions test positive at Barcelona zoo
File photo of lions in a zoo: AFP

Their keepers were tipped off when they noticed “mild respiratory symptoms” among three 16-year-old females and a four-year-old male, a zoo statement said.

The symptoms emerged as two of their keepers tested positive for the virus.   

“The four lions were tested with the viral antigen detection kit… and were found to be positive,” it said, indicating the diagnosis was confirmed by PCR tests.

They were immediately treated with anti-inflammatories and closely monitored under a protocol similar to that for the flu, and “responded positively”.

“At no time were the lions seen having difficultly breathing or other respiratory issues, and all symptoms disappeared within a fortnight, apart from coughing and sneezing,” the zoo said.

To avoid catching the virus, the keepers wore FFP3 masks, plexiglass visors and protective footwear, and they were lowered into the enclosure in a halter.   

The zoo also contacted “international experts such as the Bronx Zoo veterinary service in New York, the only one to have documented a case of Sars-CoV-2 infection in big cats,” it said.

In early April, a four-year-old female tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for Covid-19, likely contracting it from a keeper who was asymptomatic at the time.

Since the start of the pandemic, cats, dogs and various other animals have tested positive for Covid-19 but until now, minks are the only animals proven to both contract the virus and pass it on to humans.

Several countries have ordered the mass culling of their mink populations, notably Denmark where more than 10 million have already been killed.