Polar Bear Turned Cash Cow: Knut the Business-Bear

Knut, the super-cute polar bear baby which has enthralled Berlin Zoo visitors for months, is not just a pretty face. The little guy brings in the moolah too. Meanwhile Knut's grandmother Lisa is getting her very own Latin lover.

Knut may not be so cute anymore. But for a five month old baby polar bear, he is quickly turning out to be an accomplished businessman. His new product licensing campaign is rapidly gaining steam, meaning that the baby polar bear may end up being part of the Berlin zoo's business plan for years to come.

But Knut's success isn't just financial. He's also entering the literary world as the star of a new book, and his growing product line will soon make him a symbol of the economic potential of ecology. That, at least, is what the zoo's board of trustees is hoping.

"Knut has become a medium of communication," Dr. Gerald Uhlich, a member of the non-profit zoo's board of trustees, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We are granting licenses to companies who share our philosophy of protecting threatened habitat and the money generated will be used to fund habitat protection projects."

A new logo, Respect Habitats.Knut, is also going to put the Knut seal of approval on projects that come up with economically sustainable strategies to deal with ecological problems. The little fluff ball, zoo officials are hoping, will find his niche in drawing attention to the environment through creative products and solutions. "Knut," says Uhlich, "will be able to draw attention to the environment in a nice way. Not in a threatening, scolding way."

Books and films will help too. Earlier this month it was announced that bestselling American author Craig Hatkoff will pen a book called "Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World." The book will appear this summer in German before its autumn publication in English. Hatkoff is hoping to follow up on the success of "Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship" about the close relationship between a hippopotamus and a giant tortoise.

In the short term, however, there is no denying that Knut has been a goldmine for the zoo. Although Uhlich says the Knut boost hasn't been calculated, he admits that the zoo is rolling in Knut cash. And it's no wonder. Already, Knut, who was born on December 5 before being rejected by his mother, has frolicked about his enclosure in front of fully 500,000 visitors -- a rate of 10,000 per day since his first public presentation 50 days ago. At up to €11 per guest -- plus a massive spike in gift shop sales -- a revenue jump is hardly surprising.

What is Knut getting for all his trouble? On Friday, the ursine toddler is going to get a new toy to play with courtesy of the Canadian government. Canada wants to thank Knut for his contribution to preserving the environment. In March, before he could even stand up on his back legs by himself, the baby bear was named "ambassador for climate protection" by German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel. He is also going to be the poster-bear for a United Nations conference on bio-diversity to be held in Bonn in 2008.

Meanwhile, while Knut is hard at work, his grandmother, the 30 year old Lisa in the Munich zoo, is quite enjoying retirement. She's getting a new boytoy in the form of eight-year-old Yogli from Tuscany. The zoo admits that Lisa is a bit past her prime when it comes to reproduction. But maybe, the zoo is hoping, the "extremely good looking, muscular, Italian beauty" might just prove too great a temptation for Lisa.

"Who knows," said a zoo spokeswoman on Friday. "Maybe the young Latin Lover will give her hormones a boost."

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