It’s been a little over a year since polar bears have been at the center of a controversy between animal rights activists and the media. Almost 12 months ago, it was the cuddly, bottle-fed Knut that snatched the hearts of millions of cooing fans when he was lifted from his death after his mother abandoned him and his brother. The first polar bear to be born and survive in the Berlin Zoo in 30 years, Knut’s popularity as a tame, playful bear cub propelled him to international fame.

This year, it is Nuremberg Zoo’s Flocke who has been snatching headlines. The cub was rescued a couple of weeks ago after it was thought that her mother had eaten the bear’s two siblings (kind of making you rethink the illustrious question “If you could be any animal, what would you be?”). Just like the last time the world was fussing over a snowy cub, animal rights activists are outraged, claiming the bear should have been left to die rather than saved to be brought up as a domestic pet.

The idea seems a little contradictory – animal rights activists advocating the death of innocent bear cubs – but it is the natural order of the animal life. Classic Darwinism, after all, is all about natural selection, the survival of the fittest and the idea that, if creatures didn’t enforce this, it would be carried out by Mother Nature.

Unfortunately, while Darwin’s ideas have breached man’s advanced civilization on both professional and personal levels, we seem unable to recognize the idea that the crudest interpretation of natural selection also impacts us on a daily basis.

Enter two adorable polar bear cubs that, according to popular belief, are clearly the products of deranged mothers. We sympathize with the cubs. Then, we overanalyze, search for a culprit and, finally, assume that feeding a bear with a bottle and playing with him as if he is a house cat is all in the best interest of the cub and the polar bear species as a whole.

What we forgot to do was realize that polar bears’ motives should not be interpreted like human motives. As much as our politically correct culture may hate to have to cover the eyes of children every time an example of natural selection makes headline news, it’s a better response than to halt the workings of Darwin’s theory simply to spare the feelings of zoo-goers who witness the event.

Perhaps worse than the fact that we indifferently tampered with the workings of nature is the way the Berlin Zoo has exploited the charming little polar bear. In 2007, Knut was on the cover of “Vanity Fair,” had several book deals and is now even the leading personality of multiple short films, including an especially charmingly-titled one, called “Knut and Friends: a story about bears growing up.”

This year, Knut will tackle global warming, starring in a full-length animated movie, reportedly banking the zoo the equivalent of just over $5 million. Call me crazy, but I can’t believe that we need another hypocritical message about our culture’s toxic effect on the environment from a zoo leading the struggle against animal liberation.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.



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