Knut on the day his two millionth visitor came to see him (October 2007). Image Source: AFP via BBC.
The world news is in such a state right now that animal interest stories take some time to penetrate the clamour. It's with sadness that I heard today of the unexpected and premature death of this lonely and much-loved German polar bear on March 19. The cause of the bear's collapse and death is being investigated today; it was witnessed by some 600-700 people. It's speculated that his recent confinement with three female bears, including his mother, Tosca, might be a factor (see here and here). For a time, Knut was the poster animal for our concerns about the environment and our hopes that we could protect endangered species through human rearing. Perhaps his death reflects other reports that polar bears are members of a complex and volatile species that cannot fit easily with human interaction. Knut became a strange celebrity in an era where the internet can make anyone and anything world famous in minutes. I found him to be a completely sympathetic and compelling unwilling star. The Website of the Berlin Zoo is here; as of March 21, the online memorial book for the bear had garnered over 2,400 signatures, here.
Addendum from Time (23 March 2011): "On Tuesday [22 March 2011], officials at the Berlin Zoo confirmed the preliminary results of the post-mortem, revealing that Knut was suffering from a brain disorder which led to his death. "The initial results show significant changes in the brain which could be regarded as the reason for the polar bear's sudden death," the zoo said in a statement. Further tests will be carried out in the next few days. In the meantime, zoo directors have hit back at any claims of negligence."
For my earlier post on Knut, go here.