BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Knut the polar bear celebrated his second and perhaps final birthday in Berlin on Friday with hundreds of well-wishers who sang “happy birthday.”
The cuddly orphan cub who once captivated animal lovers around the world has grown into a strapping 200 kg (441 lb) adolescent predator with a need for more space and a mate.
He devoured a birthday sack of vegetables, fruit, fish and his favorite treat -- croissants -- while television cameras and photographs recorded the occasion along with several hundred fans from around the world.
But keepers say it is time for Knut, who was rejected by his mother at birth and hand-reared by zookeeper Thomas Doerflein, to mate and there is a dispute about where he should settle down. There are no potential partners around his age in Berlin.
The Neumuenster zoo has staked a claim on Knut, or at least a slice of the 5 million euros he has generated for the Berlin Zoo since he became an international celebrity because Knut’s father, Lars, was loaned to Berlin from the Neumuenster zoo.
Another German zoo in Gelsenkirchen also wants Knut and has a polar bear named Lara with whom Knut could mate.
But the director of Berlin’s zoo, Bernhard Blaskiewitz, told B.Z. daily that he plans to fight to keep Knut in Berlin.
“I expect that Knut will stay in Berlin,” he said.
Many of the Knut fans said they were worried that the bear, who has since turned into a shaggy adolescent after captivating the world’s imagination as a fluffy white ball of energy, will be moved to another zoo for mating purposes.
“I‘m afraid in another zoo he’d be anonymous,” said Mervi Niemenmaa, a 57-year-old Finnish woman come all the way to Berlin to celebrate his birthday. “He’s Knuti here -- he’d just be any old bear somewhere else. This is his home.”
“I love him,” she said. “He’s become part of my life. This whole fairy tale, how he was born and raised by Doerflein, I’ve been following it since the beginning.”
Several fans were wearing badges that read: “Knut forever in Berlin.”
Ragnar Kuehne, the zoo curator, said there are no definite plans yet about moving Knut. But the idea has been in discussion for several months, partly because Knut has grown too large for his enclosure and would need a new, larger place to live.
“He’s earned so much for the zoo, but where’s all the money gone?” said Faltin Verena, 52. “Knuti deserves so much more.”
She said she fears the zoo is not looking after Knut properly since Doerflein’s death in September aged 44.
Knut has doubled the revenues at the zoo by attracting millions of visitors and from the sales of Knut-branded merchandise -- which includes everything from soft toys and DVDs to books and sweets.
“Knut is one of the best ambassadors we have for Berlin,” said Christian Taenzler, a spokesman for the Berlin Tourism Office. “Obviously we hope he can stay here.”