BERLIN — Berlin’s beloved polar bear Knut can stay in his home city.
The Berlin Zoo said today it will pay $600,000 to the Neumuenster zoo to settle a financial dispute over ownership of the nearly 3-year-old bear. Neumuenster owns Knut’s father and had insisted it was the legal owner of Knut, the elder bear’s first offspring.
Dubbed “cute Knut” by the German media, the polar bear quickly rose to global fame as a fluffy, cuddly cub rejected by his mother when he was born in captivity on Dec. 5, 2006. The little bear was shown to the public 15 weeks later, and attendance at the zoo has roughly doubled since, officials there said.
The resulting “Knutmania” over the very photogenic bear led to a 2007 Vanity Fair cover with actor Leonardo DiCaprio shot by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, a film and even plush likenesses. Though the zoo has never released exact numbers, Knut merchandise including postcards, key chains, candy and stuffed Knuts costing up to $42 have brought in hundreds of thousands of euros.
But visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the now full-grown Knut today met with disappointment. Crowds of locals and tourists peered over the railing only to see a zookeeper cleaning the polar bear’s cage with a hose.
Avriel Burlot, 19, of Seattle and two of her friends braved the intermittent rain showers in colorful ponchos to visit the zoo. “We came to see the pandas, and we wanted to see him, too.”
Caroline Schulz and a friend were happy the bear will stay in Berlin but were disappointed he was not let out to celebrate.
“It’s nice that he can stay in his home city, because he’s so well-known here, but it’s too bad that he’s not out today,” said Schulz, herself from Berlin. “We came especially to see Knut.”