BERLIN (Reuters) - Knut the polar bear, whose death last March broke the hearts of fans around the world who had watched him being hand-reared by zookeepers, will be immortalized in bronze by a Ukrainian sculptor, Berlin Zoo said Tuesday.
“Knut — The Dreamer,” created by Josef Tabachnyk, beat more than 40 other entries in a competition for a monument for the zoo’s star attraction, who died suddenly from an epileptic fit at four years old — an early age for a polar bear in captivity.
“This entry was something quite different and very naturalistic,” Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, director of Berlin Zoo and Tierpark and judging panelist, told reporters gathered outside the polar bear enclosure.
Knut captured hearts in Germany and abroad after his mother rejected him as a newborn and he was hand-reared by zookeepers. The fluffy white bear cub was soon drawing thousands of new visitors to the zoo to watch him frolic with his keeper.
Tabachnyk’s 15,000 euro ($19,100) bronze monument, funded entirely by donations, will recall Knut’s days as a cub and show him stretching out dreamily on a rock.
“He is dreaming of how he can conquer the hearts of people with his charm,” Tabachnyk said.
But not all visitors to the zoo have such fond memories of Knut. Guiding her toddler around the deserted zoo on a cold January morning, Julia Zychlinsky, 40, said the crowds drawn by Knut meant it was difficult to see him.
“I think we only saw him the once because we didn’t want to stand around in a queue all day,” she told Reuters. “I think the whole thing is a bit over the top to be honest.”
Nevertheless, the four-legged celebrity is still generating interest after his death and the zoo shop is dominated by polar bear toys of all sizes.
“People are still showing a huge amount of interest in Knut even now that he’s gone,” said Sonia Peters, a sales assistant in the souvenir shop. “It’s not just people from Berlin asking me questions about him, it’s visitors from around the world.”
The sculpture of Knut will join a menagerie of other monuments to former stars of the Berlin zoo, including Bobby the gorilla and Knautschke the hippo.
Reporting by Alice Baghdjian, editing by Paul Casciato