No More Bear Hugs: Knut Ban for Berlin Zookeeper Thomas Dörflein

Zookeeper Thomas Dörflein was just enjoying one final romp around with his surrogate son Knut. But now the director of the Berlin Zoo has banned Dörflein from having contact with the celebrity polar bear -- it's just too dangerous to play with Knut these days.

Knut and Thomas in happier days.
DDP

Knut and Thomas in happier days.

Many parents have trouble cutting the apron strings when it's time for their offspring to make their own way in the world. It seems that polar bear Knut's surrogate "mother" Thomas Dörflein is no exception: He just couldn't do without a playful wrestle with the young bear he raised on a bottle.

But Dörflein's ongoing affection for Knut has landed him in hot water. Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz has banned the keeper from contact with Knut after seeing photos of Dörflein illicitly tumbling with the bear in the Berlin tabloid newspaper BZ.

The photos, which were published Saturday, show Dörflein -- something of a celebrity himself -- rolling around with Knut on the ground just like in the old days of the Knut and Thomas show. In one photo, Knut is lying on his back on the ground, with Dörflein holding him down by the paws.

Blaszkiewitz was not amused when he saw the photos. "What they show is exactly what I have strictly forbidden Dörflein from doing," he told the BZ. "The keeper is simply not allowed to roll around with Knut and especially not in public," he said, adding that the game is too dangerous now that Knut is approaching his first birthday and tipping the scales at 107 kilos (236 pounds).

When asked by the newspaper if Dörflein would now be banned from contact with Knut, Blaszkiewitz replied: "You can assume so."

The zoo has been trying to wean Knut off human contact since July, with the intention of getting him used to being alone before Knut gets too big. In the wild, young polar bears play with their mothers until the age of three. But even a one-year-old bear can be too dangerous for humans.

dgs

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