It's official: The Knut era is over.
Sunday marked the last installment of the "Knut show," in which Knut and his keeper Thomas Dörflein paraded before visitors in an emptied bear enclosure at the Berlin Zoo. Ever since Knut went on public display in March, the celebrity cub would wrestle with Thomas and play with his famous green blankie twice a day in front of admiring crowds. No more.
The surprise decision was not announced in advance, and some zoo visitors were reported to be disappointed. Peter and Anita Stõcker had made the trip from Kassel to Berlin specially to see Knut. "Naturally Knut is the star," they told the mass circulation daily Berliner Kurier. "But his appearances with his step-father are famous all over the world. Why couldn't the zoo announce the end of the show in advance?" The zoo welcomed Knut's millionth visitor last Thursday and has seen a visitor boom since Knut was born.
AndréSchüle, the vet who has nursed Knut through his often difficult seven months of life, told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Monday that the idea was to get Knut used to being on his own while still relatively young -- and before he gets too big to handle. "Polar bears are loners, after all," he said.
And Knut is certainly no longer a harmless little fur ball. He now weighs almost 50 kilos and is getting increasingly dangerous: Dörflein and other keepers have been left covered with bruises in recent weeks as a result of play-fighting with Knut.
However, Schüle emphasized that fans would now be able to see the young bear in his own enclosure all day long -- not just in two one-hour shows. "One or two (people) who enjoyed watching Knut play with his keeper might be disappointed," he said. "But we hope the disappointment is not too great."
Another reason for the decision to cancel the shows, Schüle said, is that the demand to see Knut has shrunk. The zoo no longer needs to let Knut roam the large, empty brown bear enclosure -- which used to be necessary to cope with the crowds of fans. "The number of visitors has dropped in the last few weeks as Knut has started looking less like a baby and more like an adult, which makes him less attractive to those people who like cute young animals," Schüle said.
He added that Knut will stay at Berlin Zoo until he's fully grown, in summer or autumn of 2008. Then he'll be introduced to a female polar bear -- or bears -- in the hope of making a Knut Junior. "But there are no set plans yet," Schüle said. The decision will be made with the help of an inter-zoo polar bear stud book, said Schüle, to make sure Knut does not mate with a relative.
And what can visitors enjoy at Berlin Zoo now that Knut is no longer so cute? "There are 14,000 animals in the zoo," said Schüle. "They are all attractive and interesting."