Sunday, July 8, 2007

Knut the Polar Bear Receives Millionth Visitor



Knut got his millionth visitor Thursday, a couple from Rotterdam who were delighted to see the star polar bear in the fur. But the days of the Knut show may be numbered, Thomas Dörflein reveals.

Berlin's celebrity polar bear baby Knut (more...) has attracted visitors by the thousands since he went on show to the public in March. Bear-lovers from all around the world have made the pilgrimage to see the no-longer-quite-so-little furball who has set the cash desks ringing at the Berlin Zoo. On Thursday the furry little scamp welcomed his millionth visitor -- but the milestone could also mark the beginning of the end of Knut's fame.

The lucky millionth visitors were a couple from Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Ilja and Vincent Arends. They are here in Berlin on vacation -- and of course no visit to Berlin is complete these days without a trip to Knut's enclosure.

"It's our first time in Berlin and to get such an honor and a stroke of luck!" Vincent enthused. As a prize the couple, who had bought their entrance tickets on the stroke of noon, got a gift basket from the zoo, containing a soft toy version of Knut and other goodies.

As usual, Knut appeared completely unfazed by all the attention. The bear, who now weighs 42 kilos, played and wrestled with his loyal carer Thomas Dörflein, who has raised the bear by hand since he was born in December.

The Arends were delighted to see the little bear romp around in his enclosure. "Look at how he nibbles on Thomas' finger," Ilja told her husband. "We are really pleased that we saw him live," commented Vincent.

However Knut's glory days may already be behind him, even though he just turned seven months Thursday. Dörflein said in an interview with the daily Der Tagesspiegel published Thursday that Knut's public appearances with his trainer would soon be brought to an end. He told the paper that his boss, zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, had told him that "it will be the end of the Knut show in a few weeks." Visitors to the zoo have enjoyed watching Thomas and Knut play together in two hour-long shows each day since March. Soon, Knut will be on display just like any other bear at the zoo.

Tabloid Bild speculated that the Knut show might be cancelled as early as next week. The newspaper reported Thursday that the security staff who are currently responsible for crowd control will no longer be present as of this Sunday. The barriers which have been used to contain onlookers are also being dismantled. There has been a growing consensus in the past few weeks that Knut is no longer as cute as he was when he was small.

However, Dörflein said that he would still be together with Knut behind the scenes for a while yet. "For me there won't be any separation just yet," he told Der Tagesspiegel.

He said that his relationship with his girlfriend has survived the intensive few months looking after Knut. "We have even moved in together now," he said. He described the interest from his many female fans as "unbelievable," admitting that his desk was covered with "love letters from around the world with songs and poems."

Dörflein expressed a certain nostalgia for Knut's infancy, saying he liked to watch the videos of when Knut was younger. "You forget so much," he said.


The process of weaning Knut off his human step-father and encouraging him to be more independent is going well, Dörflein said. However he said that if Knut were to go and live with a female bear of the same age in another zoo in the future, then he would not go to visit him. "If he smelt my scent, it would cause him suffering," he said. "I wouldn't do that to him, or to myself."

He said that he would not want to raise another bear for the moment. "At the moment I'm burned out," he confessed. "I would do it again if I got my own apartment in the zoo. But there'll never be anything like Knut again."

dgs/dpa

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