December 22, 2008 / 6:12 PM / 11 years ago

Polar bear Knut opts for meat over intruder

Polar bear Knut eats his 'birthday cake' during his second birthday celebrations in his enclosure at the Berlin Zoo December 5, 2008. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele

BERLIN (Reuters) - A 37-year-old man climbed over a fence and into the enclosure of Berlin’s celebrity polar bear on Monday, but escaped unharmed when zookeepers distracted Knut the bear with a piece of meat, police said. “The man said that he thought the polar bear was sad and lonely, and that he wanted to keep him company,” said Berlin police spokeswoman Miriam Tauchmann. “He was very lucky that nothing serious happened with such an act of foolishness.”

Knut, once a cuddly orphan cub who captivated animal lovers around the world, is now two years old and a strapping 200 kg (440 lb) adolescent predator. He was reared by zookeeper Thomas Doerflein after being rejected by his mother at birth.

Knut has been alone in his enclosure since Doerflein’s death of natural causes, in September.

Tauchmann said the zoo had pressed for charges of trespassing and the man was released pending further inquiries. He had climbed over the fence and landed in a water-filled trench on the edge of the bear’s enclosure.

He then ignored the zookeepers’ orders to leave after Knut was lured into his cage with the meat and the man did not get out until police arrived 20 minutes later. He refused medical treatment for suspected hypothermia and was released.

Knut has doubled revenues at the zoo by attracting millions of visitors and from the sales of Knut-branded merchandise — everything from soft toys and DVDs to books and sweets.

Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum

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