Tearful fans mourn beloved polar bear
Hundreds of tearful fans of Knut the polar bear flocked to his zoo enclosure yesterday to mourn the sudden death of the cuddly celebrity that captured the heart of a nation.
The beloved four-year-old was found lying face down in the pool of his compound having collapsed suddenly with suspected heart failure.
Rejected by his mother at birth and raised by his keeper, Knut's life incorporated a multi-million-euro industry in Knut paraphernalia, a court battle over his ownership, calls for his death, and then for his castration, and an ongoing debate about the ethics of keeping big wild animals in confinement.
Dozens of women known as diehard Knut fans -- some of whom reportedly even tried to hide in the zoo's spacious park to spend a whole night with him -- assembled in front of the bear's empty enclosure yesterday. Many shared their memories.
"I've been crying non-stop since I heard about his death," said Ingrid Rommel, a 65-year-old widow from Berlin, who said she had been visiting Knut weekly since his birth on December 6, 2006. She credited him with helping her get over the death of her husband.
Heidemarie Vogel, a 58-year-old woman from Potsdam near Berlin, remembered that Knut had sometimes raised his paw when she called over to him.
"It was as if he was waving to me -- so nice," Ms Vogel said tearfully. "My only consolation is, that now he is finally united with his keeper in heaven."
Knut died on Saturday afternoon at the age of four. In the wild he could have expected to live to 15 or 20; while captive polar bears are known to be capable of living twice that long.
His mother, Tosca, was a former circus animal. She rejected both Knut and his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days. He attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the cub his bottle every two hours, and went on to appear on magazine covers and in a film.