Berlin Polar Bear Alone at Home Knut Relieved at Departure of Italian Girlfriend

Knut is back on his own in his Berlin Zoo enclosure after Gianna, his high-maintenance Italian-born companion, was moved back to her home in Munich Zoo last week. He doesn't seem to be pining for her -- which isn't surprising because she has been stealing his carrots for the last 11 months.

dpa

Knut, the Berlin Zoo's A-list polar bear celebrity, is back on his own again after his vivacious Italian companion Gianna was moved out of their shared enclosure last week, ending a rocky friendship that never quite turned into a romance.

Gianna's stay was always intended to be temporary. The Italian-born bear, named after pop star Gianna Nannini, was brought to Berlin last September to allow workers to renovate her home at Munich Zoo, and to get Knut accustomed to the opposite sex.

The two bears got off to a difficult start -- Gianna introduced herself by whacking Knut on the snout and had a habit of stealing his food.

But Knut, who gained global fame in 2007 when he was hand-reared from birth after his mother rejected him, proved a gracious host. In the end, they were playing together and even rubbing snouts affectionately, although they didn't mate, probably because Knut, still less than four years old and not quite sexually mature, wasn't interested.

That and the food pilfering might explain why Knut showed no signs of missing Gianna on Monday, said zoo officials and fans.

"Sometimes he holds his head up and looks round to see if she's coming but he's not suffering," Doris Webb, a pensioner who visits Knut almost daily, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "She would steal everything, from his carrots to his toys. The first few months with Gianna were very difficult. She was incredibly spirited. Now he's playing alone again."

Berlin Icon

Webb launched an emotional campaign in 2008 to keep Knut in the German capital when Berlin Zoo was considering letting him go and was embroiled in an ownership dispute over the bear with Neumünster Zoo in northern Germany.

By gathering 30,800 signatures and handing the list to Mayor Klaus Wowereit last year, she piled pressure on the Berlin Zoo to hold onto the bear, arguing that he had become an icon of the city and had enchanted millions of people around the world.

Webb and other Knut fans keep a close eye on his development and interact with the bear, accustomed to human contact since he was raised by zookeeper Thomas Dörflein, who died in 2008.

Knut no longer attracts the tens of thousands of visitors who lined up each day to catch a glimpse of him between March and May 2007, when he was at his cutest, but he remains Berlin Zoo's most famous inhabitant, and gets daily visits from die-hard fans.

Big Change Coming

"He even plays ball with visitors," said Webb. "He picks it up in his snout and swings it to and fro and when he notices he has the right velocity he lets go and hurls the wet thing over the moat and the fence right into the crowd. Then he waits for it to be thrown back."

Webb said she was concerned about plans by the zoo to move Knut into its larger enclosure, where he will live with his mother Tosca and two other adult females at a far greater distance -- about 25 meters (82 feet) -- from his visitors.

"Knut is used to having a tree trunk to scratch himself on and sand to roll in and there's nothing like that in the bigger enclosure," said Webb. "It needs to be modernized. And he will be further away from visitors because the moat is bigger, so it will be harder for him to throw the ball over."

The zoo's bear expert, Heiner Klös, told German news agency DPA on Monday that Knut will be moving in the next four to eight weeks. "He's meant to be a polar bear," said Klös. "We don't necessarily have to put him where visitors want him but where it's best for him as a polar bear."

There is no shortage of polar bears born in captivity, and most births elicit nothing like the attention Knut has received.

He owes his fame to tabloid coverage of his plight after his mother rejected him, and to his friendship with Thomas Dörflein, the photogenic, bear-like zookeeper who became his replacement mother by bottle-feeding him, burping him and rubbing baby oil into his fur.

German tabloids fanned public sympathy for Knut shortly after his birth when they quoted a wildlife expert as saying he should be put down to spare him behavioral disorders that would result from hand-rearing.

Webb says Knut will retain his fan community. "On Dec. 5, his fourth birthday, people will come here from all over the world to watch him celebrate his birthday and eat his treats," she said. "We like all animals in this zoo but he's simply a special bear."

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