Monday, June 11, 2007

Knut Chasing Ducks and Squirrels

Knut, Berlin Zoo's fast-growing star polar bear cub, isn't just biting his keeper, he has also been chasing ducks and squirrels and taking a disturbing interest in some of the zoo's cranes.

Polar bear cub celebrity Knut has been honing his hunting skills by chasing ducks and squirrels in Berlin Zoo but so far hasn't caught any thanks to the quick intervention of his handlers.

"Some ducks landed in the moat around his enclosure but he couldn't get to them because we got there first," the zoo's bear expert, Heiner Klös, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

"He's also been showing an interest in squirrels during his morning walks around the zoo." Each day before the zoo opens, Knut goes for a stroll past the cages and enclosures with his keeper Thomas Dörflein, who taught him how to swim last month.

Past strolls have brought him face-to-face -- separated by powerful glass -- with his mother Tosca, who rejected the cub at birth and would probably devour him if she could.

"He has also been interested in the cranes but they were behind a fence," said Klös.

The polar bear cub celebrity, now over 30 kilos (66 pounds), is gradually being weaned off his "mother" Dörflein who hand-reared him, and has been given his own rocky enclosure where he has to play on his own. "It's his new home and he's accepted it," said Klös.

But he still appears twice a day in a larger area where his many fans can see him frolick with Dörflein, the zoo said. Knut has outgrown the room were he spent his first six months being bottle-fed porridge, burped and baby-oiled by Dörflein.

Knut turned six months (more...) last week and has become markedly rougher in his playing with Dörflein, who is often seen wincing with pain when the cub bites him. But Klös said the zoo wasn't worried about Dörflein.

"He's still a little bear and he doesn't pose a threat," said Klös. "And we know his little ways." He said Knut would continue his twice-daily appearances with his various handlers for at least another two months, until the end of the summer season.

The zoo says Dörflein is likely to be safe playing with the fast-growing predator until he's about one year old -- in December this year -- when he will weigh between 60 and 80 kilos. But experts admit they can't be sure and say they will keep reassessing the situation.

Meanwhile, Wirtschaftswoche magazine reported that Knut is likely to boost the zoo's revenues by €5 million by the end of the year. Some 700,000 have piled into the zoo to see the cub since his first public appearance on March 23, and that figure is expected to reach 1 million by the end of the year.

That means the zoo is heading for record total visitor numbers of over 3 million this year, beating the previous record of 2.5 million set in 2006.



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