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Monday, March 21, 2011

Was the world's favourite polar bear, Knut, killed by fame?


Cared: After he lost his mother Knut was looked after in the German capital by keeper Thomas Doerflein

The world’s most famous polar bear is dead. Knut — who won worldwide affection after he was abandoned by his mother but was then hand-reared by zookeepers — collapsed in his enclosure in front of a crowd of 600 visitors.

Scores of screaming children were among those who watched in horror as Knut suffered convulsions before falling into a pool in Berlin Zoo on Saturday afternoon.

Yesterday, crowds gathered beside his empty compound, laying down red roses and white stuffed polar bears, lighting candles and putting up pictures of Knut with personal messages for him.

Loved: Knut became the most famous world after first appearing at Berlin Zoo for the first time almost exactly four years ago

Initial theories were that the four-year-old polar bear suffered a heart attack or stroke. But animal rights groups have condemned the way he had been reared in the zoo, blaming the stresses of his ‘unreal’ celebrity-style life for his early death.

Polar bears normally live for 15 to 20 years in the wild and often longer in captivity. But animal rights campaigners fear Knut had become psychologically unbalanced, dependent on crowds — a highly unnatural state for a polar bear — and unable to mix with other bears.

Making a splash: Knut, who has died, interacts with a young visitor (left) and enjoys his time in the water

His rise to fame started after he was rejected at birth by his mother. He would have died had the zoo not taken the decision to rear him by human hand.

Keeper Thomas Doerflein moved in with him at the zoo, feeding him at night and changing nappies on him.

Soon, visitors from far and wide came to watch twice-daily shows as the keeper played with this enchanting tiny ball of white fluff. Soon, he featured on the front cover of Vanity Fair — alongside actor Leonardo DiCaprio — and made an estimated £6 million for the zoo through the marketing of pictures, key chains, sweets and stuffed Knuts.

Fame: There is speculation that the polar bear died as it was forced to live an unreal life at the zoo

But the special bond with his keeper was broken in September 2008 when Doerflein died from a heart attack. It was widely speculated he died from a broken heart after being banned from entering Knut’s enclosure because the zoo authorities were concerned the bear had grown and was too dangerous.

Playtime: dozens of people look on as Knut wrestles with a bag

However, it seemed Knut in turn had become depressed — seemingly distracted and looking lost if there were no crowds around. At this point, animal psychologists warned he was in danger of becoming a ‘psycho bear’.

A suggested solution was to put him in with three females — Tosca, Katyusha and Nancy — in an attempt to normalise his life. But the trio ganged up on Knut, biting and chasing him away.

Knut was therefore alone in his enclosure when he died. He was resting on his favourite rock when his left leg began to shake uncontrollably. He then started pacing round and round his enclosure, before falling into the water and dying.

Match-making: Knut cuddles at Berlin Zoo here with Gionvanna. But the two never mated and the other potential mates bullied him

‘He was not sick. We don’t know why he died,’ said his keeper, Heiner Kloes.

Knut’s premature death plunged Berlin into gloom. ‘His death is awful,’ said the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit. ‘He was the star of Berlin Zoo.’

‘I’ve been crying nonstop since I heard about his death,’ said Ingrid Rommel, a 65-year-old widow from Berlin, who said she had been visiting Knut weekly since his birth on December 6, 2006. She credited him with helping her get over the death of her husband.

Heidemarie Vogel, 58, remembered that Knut had sometimes raised his paw when she called over to him.

‘It was as if he was waving to me — so nice,’ she said tearfully.

source: dailymail


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