Berlin settles bitter dispute over Knut's fortunes

Wed Jul 8, 2009 11:12am EDT
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By Caroline Copley

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - An ugly dispute between the Berlin Zoo and a provincial rival over celebrity polar bear Knut was settled out of court on Wednesday when Berlin agreed to pay the Neumuenster Zoo a cash settlement of $600,000.

Knut's father Lars was only on loan to Berlin and the Neumuenster Zoo wanted a share of the royalties from the improbable fortune created by Knut, who captivated worldwide attention for surviving after his mother rejected him at birth.

Knut, born in December 2006, was hand-reared by a zookeeper who stayed with the polar bear cub that weighed just 800 grams at birth round the clock for 150 straight days.

The cuddly cub turned into a major celebrity with millions of visitors coming to the zoo even as he grew into a strapping 200 kg (440 lb) adolescent.

"The polar bear is staying in Berlin -- that's what the public wanted," said Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaskiewitz. "We're happy with this settlement. The bear probably doesn't care where he is. I don't think he wanted to go to Neumuenster."

Blaskiewitz was appearing before cameras for the first time since a chimpanzee named Pedro bit off his right index finger in June.

The Berlin zoo reported 3 million visitors in 2007, an increase of nearly 30 percent. Its profits soared to 6.8 million euros and earned one million euros alone for marketing Knut products, according to German media reports.

While Berlin was reaping the unexpected windfall, the small Neumuenster Zoo in northern Germany wanted a slice of some of those profits for loaning Knut's father Lars.   Continued...