March 20, 2011 in Nation/World

German zoo’s star polar bear Knut dies

Kirsten Grieshaber Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Knut, the polar bear cub, makes his first public appearance in the Berlin Zoo in March 2007.
(Full-size photo)

BERLIN – Berlin’s beloved polar bear Knut, an international star who as a cuddly, fluffy cub graced magazine covers, movies and merchandise, died Saturday. His death at the young age of 4 took zookeepers and animal experts by surprise.

The celebrity bear died suddenly in his compound at the Berlin Zoo on Saturday afternoon, bear keeper Heiner Kloes told the Associated Press. He waded into the water in his enclosure before having a short spasm and dying in front of hundreds of zoo visitors.

While the life expectancy of a polar bear in the wild is between 15 and 20 years, animals in captivity can live even longer because they are not exposed to hunger, thirst or infections. A postmortem will be conducted on Monday to try to pinpoint the cause of death, Kloes said.

His death was met by an immediate outpouring of sorrow. As the news of Knut’s death spread through the city, more Knut fans showed up at the zoo, assembling in front of the bear compound to mourn his loss.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit called Knut’s death “awful,” telling the B.Z. daily, “we all held him so dear.”

Abandoned at birth on December 5, 2006, along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days, Knut first attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours. Doerflein cuddled and played with him at daily public appearances, to the delight of thousands of people who came to watch.

Knut grew rapidly, weighing a hulking 440 pounds by age 2, and trading in white fluff for yellowish fur. Doerflein, the zookeeper who raised him, died in 2008 of a heart attack, earning front page headlines in German newspapers as “Knut’s daddy.”

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