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Germany

Knut To Bid Berlin Farewell

With his second birthday coming up this week, Germany's most famous polar bear is facing a move -- much to his fans' despair. It looks as if Berlin will be losing its brightest star: Knut.

Polar bear Knut

Knut is on the lookout for a new home

The Berlin Zoo will not be serving Knut an ice cake for his second birthday on Friday, Dec. 5. And it could be the last birthday for the country's most famous polar bear in the capital city. Knut is expected to say good-bye to his Berlin home in 2009 or at the latest 2010.

While fans are appealing to Berlin to keep Knut, the zoo's director, Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, said it's not about what they want, but rather what has been legally agreed on.

"We had borrowed a male polar bear from the Zoo in Neumuenster in order to breed cubs," Blaszkiewitz said. "We entered into a contract which stated that the first surviving cub is owned by the Neumuenster Zoo -- and that is Knut."

Meanwhile, Neumuenster Zoo director Peter Druewa said he doesn't know where Knut is going and when he will be leaving Berlin. The future of the prominent polar bear is still written in the stars, he said.

"He will be in Berlin over Christmas, but I'm not so sure about Easter," Druewa told the German news agency DPA.

The European Endangered Species Program EEP, coordinated from the zoo in Amsterdam, will help determine Knut's new home, Druewa said. Various zoos have expressed interest: potential mates in Germany are Lara in Gelsenkirchen and Flocke in Nuremberg. But a zoo in Sweden is also keen to have Knut.

Berlin to lose a landmark

The zoo in Neumuenster, a small town north of Hamburg, is full with the polar bear couple Kap and Maika.

"We don't have any more room," Druewa said.

Blaszkiewitz said Knut was, of course, welcome in Berlin.

"For my part he can stay," said Blaszkiewitz, who in the past has not welcomed the Knut hype. "His enclosure is still sufficient. I'll think about how things will go on financially and structurally when it's determined that Knut isn't leaving."

Rebuilding Knut's enclosure would cost several million euros. If Knut does move, it won't just be a major loss for fans. The capital city itself is unhappy.

"Berlin will not only be losing its best ambassador, but also a true landmark, much to the regret of its international guests," said Christian Taenzler from Berlin Tourism Marketing.

Where polar bears can just be themselves

Despite the fact that Knut is anything but cuddly anymore -- weighing more than 200 kilos and two-and-a-half meters tall standing -- he still wows his fans. More than five million visitors have come to see Knut since his world premiere in March 2007.

Zoo keeper Thomas Doerflein and polar bear Knut

The bond between Knut and his zoo keeper Thomas Doerflein warmed the hearts of millions

"The story of his upbringing by Thomas Doerflein stays in the minds and hearts of the people," Taenzler said.

Doerflein, the zoo keeper who raised Knut by bottle, died earlier this year. But one of his last wishes could still be fulfilled.

"I hope Knut will move to a nice zoo outside of Berlin where he can be with his own kind and maybe even father children," Doerflein said in an interview prior to his death. "He should lose his close bond to humans and just be a polar bear."

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