Outrage is growing in Germany over a zoo's decision to let newborn polar bear cubs die rather than be reared by hand.
As Berlin Zoo negotiates a £3million Hollywood contract for its human-raised celebrity bear Knut, Nuremberg Zoo 250 miles away is prepared to let as many as three newborns starve to death if their mother continues to neglect them.
Mother bears Vera and Wilma gave birth three weeks and five weeks ago respectively. It is thought they have six cubs between them but no-one has seen them to count. Scroll down for more...
The cubs in Nuremburg will not be hand-reared like celebrity polar bear Knut (above) in Berlin
Wilma is displaying all the signs of being a good mother - but Vera looks like she might be starving her young to death.
She frequently strolls out of her cave, where the hungry cries of her babies can be heard from within.
She lazes for hours outside her lair, sparking fears she is neglecting her offspring who badly need nourishment around the clock.
It was just such neglect from his mother that propelled a cute cub called Knut to international stardom in Berlin last year.
Abandoned by his mother at birth radical animal rights activists said he should die rather than be raised by humans.
The zoo disagreed and Knut became - and remains - an animal sensation.
He has been on the cover of Vanity Fair, draws visitors from as far away as Siberia each week and the rights to him are now being negotiated for around £3 million with a Hollywood production company which wants to tell his story in a Finding Nemo-like animated tale.
Nuremberg Zoo, however, is taking a hard line on Vera's cubs.
As people bombard the zoo with letters and phone calls demanding that keepers intervene unless Vera's mothering skills pick up, its director says he wants “no Knutmania” at his establishment.
He said: "Naturally we are being called animal killers. But the artificial raising of cubs does no correspond with the guidelines of the European preservation breeding programme."
His deputy went further. Helmut Maegdefrau said: "The fact is in nature, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong. If the mother leaves them to die, then they must die.
"If you don't let the mothers practice, they'll never learn how to bring up their cubs.
"We have two young mothers here and if something goes wrong they'll always have other opportunities.
"We're cautiously optimistic. Vera does come out of her cave occasionally but the cubs are crying loudly, and she walks back in when they do.
"But there's no guarantee everything will go well.
"If we were to go in and keep checking, we would disturb them and make it more likely that something goes wrong."
He said he wasn't opposed to hand-rearing in principle and that it had to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
"Berlin Zoo did a terrific job hand-rearing Knut from day one. But we want to avoid Knutomania at all costs.
"If people spend hours queuing up to see a polar bear cub, there's something wrong. We've got a baby giraffe too, that's just as cute.
"We're not in the business of making deals," he added in a swipe at Berlin Zoo.
"We're not allowed to engage in commercial activities."
"Why are you so heartless, Herr zoo director?" asked the popular newspaper Bild in a headline, mirroring the hate mail that has been pouring in.
Nuremberg mayor Horst Foerther criticised the zoo for not even knowing how many babies both bears have given birth to.
"They should at the very least had cameras monitoring them," he said.
Bernhard Blaskiewitz, Berlin Zoo director, disagreed "completely" with the stance taken in Nuremberg, adding: "This is not some new fad - we hand reared a bear in 1986 that now lives in Serbia. He is a father many times over. "That is responsible breeding and care. We have no concerns for the welfare of Knut."
German zoo is slammed for letting polar bear cubs starve | the Daily Mail