Knut was born on December 5, 2006. He died on Saturday, but zookeepers are still unclear as to why. Knut was not exhibiting any signs of illness, yet he still died on March 19, 2011.
Knut reached worldwide fame after being rejected by his mother at birth. His cute visage was spread around the world in video and photos. After the rejection, he was hand-raised by zookeepers.
In addition to his heralded survival, Knut was the first polar bear cub to survive past infancy at the Berlin Zoo in more than thirty years. He became a tourist attraction and commercial success for the zoo.
Bear keeper Heiner Kloes told The Associated Press that "He [Knut] was by himself in his compound, he was in the water, and then he was dead. He was not sick, we don't know why he died." An autopsy will be conducted on Monday to try pinpoint his cause of death, Kloes added.
Between 600 and 700 zoo visitors were at Knut's compound at the time of his death. As the onlookers watched, right before their eyes, the polar bear collapsed, then floated dead in the water of his pen.
The entire city of Berlin is in shock. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said to B.Z., "We all held him so dearly. He was the star of the Berlin zoos."
All was not cuteness with regards to Knut, however. After the rejection by his mother, in March of 2007 German tabloid Bild-Zeitung carried a quote by animal rights activist Frank Albrecht who said that Knut should have been euthanized rather than being "humiliated by being raised as a domestic pet." Later, Albrecht said the quote was taken out of context. At one point, threatening letters were sent to Albrecht.
Moreover, protests began at the zoo, arguing for Knut's life. For one, a group of children protested at the zoo, holding up signs reading "Knut Must Live" and "We Love Knut." The public sent numerous emails and letters begging for the cub's life to be spared. The Berlin Zoo vowed support of the then-baby polar bear, stating it would not harm him and rejecting any calls to euthanize Knut..
Fans of Knut became so crazed, and media covered him so thoroughly, that it was called Knutmania. The mania spawned multiple types of merchandise, including toys, media specials, DVDs, and books. Although no official numbers were released, Knut's revenue for the Berlin Zoo has been estimated at about five million euros, by 2007. Zoo attendance figures for 2007 also increased by an estimated 30 percent, making it the most profitable year in the Berlin Zoo's history.
Two videos showing the young Knut are below.
Image Source: Wikipedia