Anger and confusion in Berlin over 'stuffed Knut'
Mourning over Berlin Zoo's superstar polar bear Knut, who died suddenly aged just four on March 19, is slowly but surely being replaced with a growing wave of anger -- and confusion.
Fans of Knut, who shot to nothing short of global fame as an ueber-cute cub in 2007, are planning a demonstration this Saturday in protest at plans for his body to be stuffed and put on display at Berlin's Natural History Museum.
Activists have been collecting signatures both on the Internet and on the streets, and an online condolence book provided by the zoo (http://www.zoo-berlin.de) is full of angry missives.
"Knut cannot be stuffed. When are you going to get the message!," reads one from Michael S. "Leave him alone for once!! You cannot be serious. Let Knut rest in peace !!!"
"We're not in the 19th century any more," Doris Webb, who collected more than 30,000 signatures in 2009 for a petition to prevent Knut going to another zoo, as was feared at the time, told the Berliner Zeitung daily.
An open letter to zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz says: "Nobody wants to look at a stiff, dead Knut."
According to a survey of more than 2,400 people published in the Berlin tabloid BZ, 73 percent of those questioned are opposed to him being put on show at the museum.
Campaigners accuse the zoo, which has already made millions of euros (dollars) from Knut in merchandising and extra entrance fees, of wanting to milk him for even more.
Instead, they say, Knut should be cremated.
The campaigners are not put off by the fact that despite all the growling, Knut is not actually going to be stuffed: nowadays what happens is a plastic model of an animal's body is made with the fur, skin or scales pulled over.
And it is not sure that Knut will go on display at the Museum fuer Naturkunde alongside the world's largest mounted dinosaur skeleton and its other prized exhibits. A decision has not yet been taken, it says.
Heiner Kloes, in charge of bears at Berlin Zoo, is defiant.
"When we have decided something, we are not going to let ourselves be swayed either by thousands of people, tens of thousands of people or hundreds of thousands," he told AFP.
The zoo has given Knut's body to the museum, as it does with all its dead animals, so that it can help scientific research, he stressed.
"If he is cremated or buried in a coffin or whatever, nobody benefits. And if people say that want to remember him as he was and not see him, then nobody is forcing them to go to the museum."
Knut, pulled dead from a pool in his enclosure he shared with three females, was just four years and three months old, well below the average life expectancy for polar bears of around 35.
The bear became a national cause celebre after being spurned by his mother and brought up by hand by keeper Thomas Doerflein, himself slightly bear-like, who would strum Elvis Presley songs to the snow-white cub on his guitar.
The first public appearance of "Cute Knut" in March 2007 attracted 100 television camera crews from around the world, and the bear even made it to the cover of glossy US magazine Vanity Fair.
But once Knut grew into a strapping adolescent and then adult, animal welfare groups began to worry that he was displaying abnormal behaviour because of all the attention. Doerflein died aged 44 of a heart attack in 2008.
Knut's cause of death has also been a contentious issue. The final results of an autopsy are not yet known, but Berlin Zoo said last week that preliminary indications were that he died from a brain defect.
Activists suspect that the cause was either the stress from all the attention, or epilepsy inherited from his father Lars, who in turn resulted from an "incestuous" affair -- underlining, they say, that bears should not be in zoos.
© 2011 AFP