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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 5:20 EDT

Berlin Zoo Polar Bear, Knut, Dies Unexpectedly

March 21, 2011

Knut, Berlin Zoo’s superstar polar bear, has died at the age of four.

“Everyone is just in shock here,” said Claudia Bienek, a spokeswoman for the Berlin Zoo in the German capital while discussing the death of Knut, a beloved zoo resident. Knut died unexpectedly while in his enclosure.

As a cub in 2007, Knut, was rejected by his mother and had been reared by zookeepers.

Captive polar bears generally live to be around 35 years of age. Knut was only four years and three months old. He was found floating dead on Saturday afternoon in the enclosure he shared with three other bears.

Heiner Kloe, the head bear keeper claims the cause of death was not immediately known. An autopsy is planned for Monday.

The Berlin Zoo Daily quoted witnesses as saying that Knut was sitting on rocks in his enclosure when his left leg began to shake. The bear then started walking around in circles before falling into the water with no other movement seen from him.

Berlin’s mayor Klaus Wowereit said in a statement, “This is awful. We had all taken him to our hearts. He was the star of the Berlin Zoo.”

The popular ursine was on the cover of Vanity Fair and received visits from Tom Cruise and his daughter Suri, as well as Leonardo DiCaprio. Stuffed toy “Knut” bears sold out several times over. Knut performed twice-daily appearances and required a separate admission inside the zoo, as he was so popular. He would splash in a pond, jump on rocks and play with his handler.

Once Knut grew into an adolescent and then into an adult, animal behaviorists began to worry that he was behaving abnormally due to the increased attention. Knut displayed unnatural swaying and began imitating people taking photos of him by lifting a paw to his face.

Romantic attachments with female polar bears discontinued as stories emerged of violent maulings. “Knut’s short and distressful life shows us again that polar bears do not belong in zoos, even if they are called Knut,” Wolfgang Apel, head of the German animal protection association, told the AFP news agency.

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