The book pictured on the left is four years old. Its subject, Knut, the polar bear born in captivity, died at the zoo in Berlin last month when he was just 4-and-a-half. You could make a case that with all of the suffering in the world, the grief over this polar bear’s untimely death is hard to understand. Or not. Do you know Knut’s story? Knut was born at the Berlin Zoo on December 5, 2006. He and his brother were, for some reason only polar bears understand, rejected by their mother. Zookeepers stepped in to rescue the two cubs, but only one survived – Knut. Knut’s trainer, Thomas Dorflein, cared for Knut – including giving him bottles of baby formula – twenty-four hours a day. According to Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World, Dorflein even “moved a bed and sleeping bag into the cub’s room so that he could always be nearby.”
Knut’s story captivated Germans and people from around the world. “Knutmania” resulted in skyrocketing attendance at the Berlin Zoo and stuffed polar bears sold in every German souvenir shop. But then, in September 2008, Dorflein died of a heart attack at the age of 44. And then, on March 19 of this year, Knut died. Apparently, he had a seizure which caused him to fall into a pool and drown. The day after I heard about Knut’s death, I pulled this book off the shelf and began to flip through it. It was hard to take a bad picture of the fluffy white polar bear, and of course, the pictures are even more poignant now.