Knut, we hardly Knew ye

Knut the polar bear - courtesy of selbst fotografiert von Jens Koßmagk; permission CC-by-sa-2.0-deSad news out of Berlin this week.  Knut, the world famous polar bear, died unexpectedly while swimming in his enclosure.  The cause of death was not determined.  He was four years old.

 

The bear captured the hearts of the German people shortly after he was born in captivity, but was rejected by his mother - the first polar bear to be born and survive infancy in the Berlin Zoo in over 30 years.

 

However, not everyone thought zookeepers should take the extraordinary steps necessary to rear the cub.  Some animal rights activists argued that raising the polar bear was both illegal and immoral.  These arguments were rejected by the public and, more importantly, the Berlin Zoo.  The media sensation that became known as Knutmania extended well beyond Germany.  Visits to the Berlin Zoo increased substantially with tourists traveling from around the world to see Knut.

 

So, why did Knut strike such a chord with so many people?  The most obvious explanation would be the "cute factor".  Seeing little furry white creatures being bottle-fed milk elicit the kinds of ooohs and aaahs one might hear at a Justin Bieber concert.  It might also be the result of Knut being rejected by his mother.  Who wouldn't feel sympathy to a creature that had been rejected?  In addition to the emotional factors, there was this existential reality - humans had to intervene if the bear were to survive.  And by disregarding the advice of "experts" to let the cub die, there was a collective emotional investment made by the public.  We became attached to Knut.

 

And so, we say with heavy heart, goodbye Knut.  We'll miss you.

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