The world’s most famous and much adored polar bear Knut has died suddenly under mysterious circumstances. Knut was only 4 years old. Polar bears living in captivity can apparently live to around 30 years of age.
Knut died in his enclosure at Berlin Zoo in front of hundreds of zoo visitors. Witnesses reported that Knut’s left leg began shaking, he walking around in circles and then fell into a pool. A zoo visitor captured footage of Knut’s death. The footage of the sad event is available here. Warning, it is as sad and awful as it sounds. Really. Don’t watch it if you are disturbed by such things.
Knut was born in captivity and was hand-reared by the zoo after he was rejected by his mother, who was a former circus bear from former East Germany. Knut was the first polar bear cub to survive past infancy at the Berlin Zoo in more than 30 years. He spent the first 44 days of his life in an incubator.
In early 2007, considerable controversy was caused by a German tabloid quoting an animal rights activist, who said Knut should have been killed rather than humiliated by being raised “as a domestic pet”. He asserted that the zoo was violating animal protection legislation by keeping him alive. The director of the Aachen Zoo agreed with him, arguing that the bear will “die a little” every time it is separated from its caretaker. Knut’s initial carer, Thomas Dörflein, who provided round-the-clock care to begin with, died of a heart attack in September 2008.
At the time of the controversy, a group of children began protesting at the zoo and many emails and letters were sent asking that Knut’s life be saved. The Berlin Zoo decided to look after Knut, rejecting the assertion that it would be kinder to put him down. This controversy meant that Knut’s plight become an international media story, and “Knutmania” began.
Knut become a major attraction for the Berlin Zoon, and reportedly generated more than 5 million euros in additional income for Berlin Zoo since he was born.
The cause of Knut’s death is yet to be determined. The zoo has said that it will carry out an autopsy. There has been speculation that Knut died from stress to do with three female bears in his enclosure. Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, Berlin Zoo director, has rejected this speculation.
Blaszkiewitz said Knut may be preserved and displayed at Berlin’s Natural History Museum.