Big party for Berlin's star bear Knut on first birthday
Nov 29, 2007, 16:11 GMT
Polar bear Knut stiks out his tongue at the Berlin Zoo in Berlin, Germany, 29 November 2007. 05 December the polar bear will celebrate his first birthday. EPA/RAINER JENSEN
Berlin - Berlin zoo is planning a party on a large scale for its star attraction. Knut the polar bear turns 1 on Wednesday, and everything possible is being done to ensure the day is a happy one.
His keeper, Thomas Doerflein, is to serve up a cake of ice-cream, fruit and vegetables, topped off with croissants and grapes.
'Little' Knut has come a long way since being orphaned along with his twin brother when his mother Tosca rejected them. He came into the world at a tiny 810 grams, and there were real fears he would die, as his brother did at the tender age of four days.
But Doerflein's assiduousness with the baby bottle paid off. By late July, when he weighed in at 60 kilogrammes, Knut had to go on diet. And his current weight is put at 100 kilogrammes.
The days when Doerflein tumbled with him in his enclosure to the delight of adults and children alike are long gone. 'Too dangerous,' the Berlin Zoo directorate ruled in early July.
Knut has earned his party. He is undoubtedly the biggest moneyspinner in the zoo's 163-year history - he has generated up to 10 million euros (15 million dollars) all on his own, according to the zoo's own estimates.
More than 2.5 million people have visited his enclosure, and millions more around the world have seen him on film or television.
Among the grateful were hordes of journalists who turned up in the German capital in March to cover a drearily predictable European Union summit.
It was Knut, who had just been presented to the public, who got the TV coverage, not the likes of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
It has not been all plain sailing. Conservationists and animal rights purists said Knut should have been allowed to die, rather than be brought up as a 'half-human.'
A death threat in April brought additional police protection. The same month he suffered a bout of toothache that caused a brief break in his public engagements.
In September he hurt his right hind paw apparently after slipping. By this time he had a mind of his own, as the vet who darted him before treatment recalls.
'Knut threw a tantrum when he saw me,' Andreas Ochs said. 'He clearly remembered exactly who had shot him with a tranquillizer dart.'
And there were repeated bouts of fever that caused sleepless nights, Berlin Zoo head Bernhard Blaszkiewitz said.
The close contact with Doerflein is at an end and Knut is now running free in his own enclosure.
The debate about his future has begun. The zoo in the German city of Neumuenster has a claim, as that is where Knut's father Lars hails from.
The Hanover and Gelsenkirchen zoos have also indicated an interest, with Gelsenkirchen sending a 'love letter' from its female polar bear.
Berlin Zoo is keeping its options open. No decision is to be taken until the middle of next year at the earliest.
The zoo authorities are hoping they will soon have a new star on their hands. Tosca may be carrying again, although the experts are not sure. 'We're waiting to see,' says vet Andre Schuele.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur