Knut's Keeper Gets Medal: Arise, Sir Dörflein
Zookeeper Thomas Dörflein has been awarded Berlin's Medal of Merit in honor of his round-the-clock care for polar bear cub Knut, the city's most famous resident who has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors to the zoo this year.
Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit (r) awards the medal to Thomas Dörflein Monday.
The bear-like bearded keeper lined up with 10 other recipients, among them former Berlin mayor Eberhard Diepgen, to receive the award in the city's town hall.
Dörflein spent day and night caring for Knut after the cub's mother Tosca rejected him at birth. He slept by Knut's side, fed him specially made porridge, cleaned up his mess and tolerated the cub's frequent temper tantrums in the middle of the night.
The keeper, who has worked for Berlin Zoo for the last 26 years, became a celebrity himself through his daily appearances with Knut in the months after the shaggy youngster was first shown to an adoring public in March.
The zoo has tried to wean Knut off Dörflein gradually to prepare the increasingly large bear -- now well over 80 kilograms (176 pounds) -- for the day when he will be too big and dangerous to approach. Knut now has an enclosure all to himself and spends all day there without Dörflein.
But for now, the two pals still play together in the mornings before the zoo opens.
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