Brother and sister polar bears accidentally breed together at zoo after mix-up

Berlin Zoo’s newest polar bear cub Hertha has a dark secret. The "sporty young bear" named after the zoo’s local Bundesliga club is the product of incest.

The zoo is now blaming Russia for a clerical error in the little bear’s pedigree documents that led to her parents Volodya and Tonya when they were actually brother and sister.

Their mistake was uncovered by Moscow Zoo biologist Marina Galshchuk, who noticed an irregularity in the animals' breeding documentation. A genetic analysis has now confirmed Galshchuk’s suspicions.

In a statement released by Berlin Zoo, Galshchuk is quoted as saying: "If we had known about the relationship between Tonya and Volodya, we would of course not have recommended the two polar bears for breeding. That was a mistake."

It appears that Tonya’s records had been mixed up with those of another female bear born in Moscow at around the same time.

A Berlin Zoo spokesperson added: "This serious mistake is a regrettable setback for the careful work undertaken by the European breeding program."

Despite the inbreeding, Hertha’s health is not thought to be at risk, according to a report in Deutsche Welle. Hertha’s older brother, Fritz, died of liver inflammation aged just four months.

Another of Berlin Zoo's polar bears, Knut, died unexpectedly at just four years old in 2011.

In the wild, polar bears can live for over 20 years.

James Brückner from the German Animal Welfare Federation has called on zoos to stop keeping and breeding polar bears, saying that the error was a "disaster for the already questionable breeding efforts for polar bears in zoos".

Polar bears are listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List on the basis of their shrinking habitat but are not classified as endangered. There are thought to be somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 are thought to be left in the wild.

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