Knut―the cute baby polar bear who soared to unprecedented popularity and became Germany's new 'poster bear'; and the first one in 30 years to grow beyond childhood in the Berlin Zoo. The chubby little cub instantly became a celebrity. Born on December 5, 2006, Knut was rejected by its mother Tosca. Thomas Dörflein, the zoo keeper, became Knut's caretaker.
He spent the first few days of his life in an incubator. Thomas Dörflein had to take care of the bear, and monitored it continuously. Knut started off with a diet of cod liver oil every two hours for four months, after which milk porridge became his daily diet.
2007 had a lot of controversies in store for this then 3-month old cub. Frank Albrecht, an animal rights activist, raised questions over Knut's upbringing by humans. His argument was that the bear would die soon after its separation from the caretaker.
Albrecht suggested mercy killing as the only option in deciding the fate of this little bear. Though correct, this statement caused an emotional outrage in the public. Children protested outside the zoo; people wanted the bear to live.
In The Public Eye
Knut gained tremendous popularity in a short amount of time. On March 23, 2007, he was introduced to the public amidst much fanfare. The press conference was attended by 400 journalists.
The German media regularly published news related to Knut. Rumors related to the bear's health, diet, etc., started doing the rounds in the public. Both zoo authorities and media gained a lot out of the clamor over Knut's well-being.
In August 2007 alone, around 400,000 people visited him. The Berlin Zoo was accused of trying to commercialize the media attention given to the bear. Since the cub was facing large crowds every day, it became habituated to their and his caretaker's attention.
At times, it became tricky for the caretakers to handle Knut, as the little bear would literally cry out of restlessness during the non-visiting hours of the zoo. Knut's popularity, however, grew steadily day-by-day.
The bear's first birthday gave people another opportunity to hold a grand celebration in the zoo itself. The national treasury, too, joined the public, and issued 25,000 coins to mark the occasion. Celebrations at the zoo went live on television.
The Financial Aspect
Along with popularity, Knut also brought huge sums of money to the Berlin zoo. The stock value of the zoo rose massively. Haribo, a company producing sweets, launched a new sweet, known as 'Cuddly Knut'. Not surprisingly, a toy company, Steiff, decided to jump on the bandwagon, and released three models of toys based on the poor little bear.
In a more positive move, Knut's popular image was also used to create awareness about global warming, following a deal signed between the Berlin Zoo and Turtle Pond Publications, an American publishing house. Knut is Cute is one of the many popular songs written about him.
Knut's picture appeared on the cover page of the magazine Vanity Fair in Germany. He was used as a mascot for a conference held in 2008 in Bonn, Germany, on the subject of endangered species.
Sadly, Knut dies on March 19, 2011, when he fell into his pool and was too weak and ill to extricate himself.