Dutch Zoo Director Warns About Knut Is Berlin's Zoo Spoiling its Animals?

The director of the Dutch zoo where gorilla Bokito escaped last Friday has accused Berlin's zoo of bringing him up badly and warns that it's going to have trouble with pampered polar bear superstar Knut. Berlin denies spoiling its animals, but admits it took the gorilla out to a pizza restaurant once and let Knut play on a children's slide.

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Pampered Knut with his keeper, Thomas Dorflein of the Berlin Zoo
AP

Pampered Knut with his keeper, Thomas Dorflein of the Berlin Zoo

Berlin Zoo denied an accusation by the head of Rotterdam Zoo that it had spoiled Bokito, the 11 year-old gorilla who escaped his enclosure and seriously wounded a visitor in the Dutch zoo last Friday.

The 180-kilogram ape was hand-reared in Berlin Zoo and escaped from his cage there too on two occasions, once shinning up a three meter fence and sending vistors racing for the exits, before he was transferred to Rotterdam two years ago.

Ton Dorresteijn, director of Rotterdam's Blijdorp zoo, told the De Volkskrant newspaper that Bokito had been badly brought up by his colleagues in Berlin who had let him become too comfortable with humans.

"Bokito was definitely not brought up normally in captivity. He was bottle-fed and was a star in Germany," he told the paper. "He was even allowed to go for walks with keepers and went for pizza. My German colleagues will be in for something when Knut grows up."

Bokito caused panic in Blijdorp last Friday when he crossed a 3.5-meter ditch and vaulted an electric fence. He caught visitor Petronella-Yvonne de Horde, 57, and dragged her along the ground, breaking her wrist and lower arm and biting her more than 100 times. Then he rampaged around the zoo restaurant, throwing chairs and tables around, before he was tranquilized with a dart gun.

Berlin Zoo curator Heiner Klös said Bokito's upbringing had nothing to do with his escape attempts and denied that the gorilla had had too much contact with humans in his younger years. "He's a confident young man," Klös told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "And Rotterdam knew what it was getting."

Klös said Bokito had to be raised by hand, but he admitted that the gorilla had been taken out for a pizza once when he was young. "When he was less than four months old and could be held like a baby he was taken outside the zoo to a pizza restaurant but that only happened once. Besides, Knut is a completely different case," said Klös.

Coddled by his keepers?

However, the world famous polar bear cub's upbringing has been anything but normal since he was rejected at birth by his mother Tosca. It's not just that his first public appearance was broadcast around the world by hundreds of cameramen and photographers.

Faithful keeper Thomas Dörflein spent months sleeping by Knut's side and playing with him, and has recently been giving the cub swimming lessons and taking him for walks around the zoo in the mornings before it opens to the public.

A local TV station even filmed Knut playing in the zoo's playground for children, and he seemed to enjoy sliding down the slide, front paws first.

"He used the slide once but we put a stop to that because it's a child's slide and has nothing to do with bears," said Klös. "The animal isn't a human child. There were also hygiene factors to consider."

Klös said there was nothing wrong with taking the bear for morning walks. "He walks round the zoo with his keeper every morning before it opens, he's curious and wants to see everything."

Meanwhile not-so-cute-Knut, who is losing his innocent fluffiness by the dayas he mutates into a meat-chomping predator, no longer requires Dörflein's presence at night.

"He's getting more confident each day and is happily sleeping on his own now. One day we'll decide that he no longer needs the keeper by his side when he's in the enclosure but that will be less due to safety concerns than due to his normal development," said Klös.

Meanwhile visitor numbers have gradually been returning to normal, and media coverage of Knut's exploits has also tailed off. Berlin reporters have begun a vigil for the day Knut bites the hand that feeds him.

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