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Polar bear's death brings tears and criticism

Published: 20 Mar 2011 11:48 GMT+01:00

Early Sunday morning, people were already gathering at Berlin's Zoologischer Garten to say good-bye to Knut, the world-famous polar bear who shot to global fame in 2007 and even made the cover of Vanity Fair.

They left flowers and placed lit candles outside the zoo's gates, accompanied by messages such as: "We loved you soooooo much!" and "Bye-bye Knut!"

"I am deeply shocked," said Gabriele Thöne, the zoo's business director. "It's like a friend has left us."

Knut, pulled dead from a pool in the enclosure he shared with three females on Saturday afternoon, was just four years and three months old, well below the average life expectancy for polar bears of around 35.

The cause of his untimely death was not immediately known, said Heiner Klös, in charge of bears at the zoo. Veterinarians were due to conduct an autopsy on Monday.

The BZdaily quoted zoo visitors as saying that Knut was sitting on rocks in his enclosure when his left leg began to shake. He then started walking around in circles before falling into the water.

Zoo workers then erected a screen around the enclosure while Knut was fished out.

The shock could be seen on visitors' faces yesterday, with many in tears. Parents found themselves having to improvise explanations for questioning children, with variations ranging from "Knut's gone on vacation" to "Knut is sleeping and doesn't want to be bothered" to "Knut's gone to polar bear heaven."

Photobucket

Click here for a Knut photo gallery.

"I am so sad," said Sabine, a frequent guest at the zoo who couldn't hold the tears back.

Soon afterwards the zoo was closed for the day.

Thousands of people around the globe expressed their sadness on Twitter and Facebook about the bear's passing.

But animal-rights group PETA has responded to Knut's death angrily, leveled fierce criticism against zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz and bear keeper Klös.

PETA said putting Knut in an enclosure with three older female polar bears was stressful for him. The fact that he was raised by hand, by a human keeper, and developed a general orientation toward people, rather than his fellow bears, was unnatural and lead to behavioral problems, the organization said.

"Nature has now taken its revenge and spared Knut from the significant torments of captivity," said animal-rights activist Frank Albrecht, who has criticized Knut's upbringing in the past.

Wolfgang Apel, head of the German animal protection association, said the death should be a lesson.

"Knut's short and distressful life shows us again that polar bears do not belong in zoos, even if they are called Knut," he said.

DPA/DAPD/AFP/kdj

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Your comments about this article

13:28 March 20, 2011 by yhsanjay
A sad loss. The bear was much loved by one and all, especially by children.Whats a bit disturbing is that the bear had to die at age four plus years!

I hope the zoo people are more careful and learn lessons from such past mistakes.
15:10 March 20, 2011 by catjones
Sounds like a stroke. Normal lifespan should be 15+ years.
18:49 March 20, 2011 by JAMessersmith
This was a bear that was rejected by his mother. In many cases, when an animal refuses to care for one of its offspring, there is usually something physically wrong with the baby. Knut's mother probably knew instinctively that he wasn't going to survive for long, which is why she didn't waste any of her milk on him. Sounds harsh, but that's the animal kingdom for you.
19:57 March 20, 2011 by goldilocks2
To all you detractors, what's wrong with a second chance at life if your birth mother rejects you? Nothing, as I see it. However, people (especially trained zookeepers & the powers that be) given what they believe to be true about rejected animals at birth should have known enough to not subject the poor creature to aggressive other animals even of their own species. It would seem that with Knut's observed circumstantial stresses, closer supervision & timley preventative action would have been in order. He may very well have lived to a ripe old age instead of being repeatedly subjected to the other bears reported aggressiveness. How very sad Knut's handler died so early...poor Knut's decline may have in part stemmed from a broken spirt of loneliness & isolation. I am truly saddened & will be anxiously awaiting further news...
20:40 March 20, 2011 by dcgi
So it wasn't due to pea-soup inhalation(?)
20:47 March 20, 2011 by JAMessersmith
@goldilocks2

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with raising an animal rejected by its mother (in fact, my very own cat was a rejected runt). All I'm saying is that rejected animals oftentimes don't survive very long. Of course, there are exceptions, but that is a general rule.

In the case of my cat, he was either born in the bushes outside my house, or carried there by his mother (which is probably the case, since he was there by himself). For two days I tried to catch him, but couldn't because he was too fast. However, on the third day I had left my front door open and he decided to walk inside on his own accord. By that point he was pretty close to death, and was covered in mud, so I cleaned him off and rushed him to the vet. I spent tons of money getting him all fixed up. He had a severe eye and ear infection, was badly malnourished, and needed surgery on his mouth. Now he's 6 years old and is perfectly healthy. However, he is still very small for a cat of his age. You can definitely tell he was a runt. Don't know how that will affect his health in the future, but for now he's doing great.
21:19 March 20, 2011 by goldilocks2
I thought that the rejection would occur sooner after birth. Nothing wrong with "runts". They are usually very cute & just need an extra boost in the beginning. Have to consider that Mother Nature may make errors in judgment...maybe Mom had "forgotten" where your kitten was or was unable to get back for him. Maybe another animal (squirrel ?) carried him off. Glad to hear of your success. I have 3 cats...one a former stray that "found" me. He is a diabetic for a couple of years now with some degree of kidney failure. But, with proper med. & food is doing great also.
23:49 March 20, 2011 by DavidtheNorseman
Thank you to the Berlin Zoologischer Garten for saving and giving us the years of Knut we did have. No one knows when they have a child how long they will be with us, but we are better for knowing and loving them. How can a man love something he has never known? Through Knut and his life we have come to love Polar Bears better than before. How do the animal rights folk know that we are not part of the system - that our part in nature is not to use our minds for the care of the physical universe? To attribute anthropomorphic sensibilities to blind "Nature" will lead us back to worshipping senseless rocks and trees...

Thanks again to the Berlin Zoologischer Garten: you did the right thing. I still have a picture of Knut and Giovanna so happily together...such things are simply good.
11:59 March 21, 2011 by Angry Ami
Firstly RIP Knut, he was a one off, but the same personality

(if you can use that word to describe an animal) that made him so cute and lovable to we humans was probably his undoing for any kind of normal relationship with other polar-bears, as we saw when he had his 1st encounter with Gena or whatever she was called, the poor guy couldn't handle it, and then he's put in with 3 aggressive female PB's, including his mama, think the stress was just too much for him, witnesses said his left leg was shaking just before he jumped into the water, which is one possible sign of a stroke or a heart attack, both of which can occur when one is put under too much stress, damn shame :-(
14:09 March 21, 2011 by moistvelvet
FREEDOM - Knut is free at last!! Why didn't the parents just tell their kids the truth.
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