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Thomas Dörflein, polar bear Knut's 'father', found dead in Berlin apartment
For a time, Dörflein was perhaps the most famous zookeeper in the world, thanks to his role as 'foster father' to polar bear Knut, the biggest celebrity animal the Berlin zoo has ever had.
Knut captivated locals and tourists alike last year, and for good reason. First, he was cute as anything, and his story really tugged at the heartstrings: When Knut was born in December, 2006, his mother rejected him and his brother (who died, a few days later). Zoo personnel removed Knut, then only the size of a hamster, from the polar bear enclosure and put him in an incubator for 44 days.
After that, Dörflein stepped in, hand-feeding Knut and sleeping in his cage. He was with the bear 24/7 and it is because of Dörflein's commitment that Knut survived, the first polar bear born in Berlin to do so in 30 years.
The two appeared inseparable, and it was Dörflein who first introduced Knut to the public, bringing the cub out into the enclosure for feeding and frolicking. Both were a hit with Berliners and tourists, who came from throughout Europe to see Knut.
For close to six months last year, it was tough to even get a glimpse of Knut, the lines were so long at Berlin's zoo. Knut's celebrity raised more than $4 million for the zoo, and untold more in merchandise at tourist stands throughout the city.
You can look at pictures of the two together here.
Knut has been on his own this year, however, after the zoo last November decided that he was getting too big for Dörflein to safely care for him.
Dörflein reportedly had been seriously sick for some time, though of what no one knows, and was found dead yesterday in a Berlin apartment. He had been visiting a friend and collapsed silently, newspapers here say.
Authorities say there is no evidence of foul play or suicide. Dörflein was 44.
Filed under: News