July 8, 2009 / 3:19 PM / 10 years ago

Berlin settles bitter dispute over Knut's fortunes

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.

Berlin initially offered 350,000 euros and “not a cent more” while Neumuenster demanded 500,000 euros. In May leaders of the two zoos met in a Berlin courtroom. The judge gave the two sides time until July 13 to try again to reach a settlement.

“Knut is now a real Berliner” said Peter Druewa, director of Neumuenster Zoo, at a news conference in Berlin, after announcing the settlement at 430,000 euros — to be paid in three installments over the next two years.

Finance director Gabriele Thoene said she saw Knut as an investment for the future.

“It is important that the polar bear is here. We need the money in order to achieve our goals. The whole zoo wins if Knut helps to bring people into the zoo,” she said.

More than 7 million animal lovers have visited Knut since his first appearance before the cameras in March 2007. Today however, he seemed camera shy, shunning the limelight for the comfort of his cave.

Visitors to the zoo also welcomed the news.

“I feel good about the decision. There has been a lot of media attention about him. It’s good for the zoo because more people will come and visit,” said Andrea Janke from Neustrelitz celebrating her 32nd birthday with a trip to the zoo.

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