Knut, the celebrity polar bear who lived at the Berlin Zoo and, to the sorrow of people around the world, died suddenly on March 19, is to be stuffed and put on display in a museum.
Knut’s fans, some of whom visited him for hours every day after his birth on December 5, 2005, are not happy at the decision of the zoo’s director, Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, to have Knut become ‘dermoplastik.” According to the New York Times, Blaszkiewitz says that “the corpse has already been sent out, its skin removed and the procedure well under way.”
Blaszkiewitz also expresses wonderment at human beings putting “their human feelings” into animals. Pardon me for saying this but, how can someone who is flabbergasted that people can express feelings and emotions about an animal be in charge of a zoo?
(Keep in that mind, Blaszkiewitz is, as the New York Times says, a man “whose zoo marketed this bear from birth, made millions off its presence, sold plush toy Knuts for nearly $30 and Knut baby videos for the same, and even registered ‘Knut’ as a trademark.”)
Here are some of the reactions of Knut’s admirers to hearing about his taxidermic fate:
“When someone dies in your family I think you don’t want him stuffed in a museum,” said Jochen Kolbe, 31, who is leading a protest movement to block the planned taxidermy. “Knut is not only a polar bear for people, he is a friend, a family member.”
“I don’t want to see him stuffed,” said Triste Dittrich, her eyes moist as she passed around color snapshots of Knut, as if handing out photos of grandchildren. “I want him to live on in my head as he was before, when he was alive.”
“When things went bad and you didn’t feel well, then you came here and you felt better again,” said Anne Kreiner, as she visited the zoo. “I’m really against this; you wouldn’t stuff your pets.”
Considering all that is going on the world — nuclear disaster in Japan, pro-democracy protesters in the Middle East being shot at by their own governments — it can be said, the uproar about the stuffing of Knut might be seen as so much indulgent hand-wringing. My own son, who’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, has been having some new difficulties, and here I am writing about a sadly deceased polar bear.
While the New York Times article is written in a tongue-in-cheek tone, it does make a point that I think needs repeating:
But the battle over Knut’s remains is a simple reminder that applying the formula of comparative importance to any conflict is meaningless to those touched by the conflict. This may not be Japan, or the Middle East, but loss still feels like loss. That is the message of the women on the bench in front of the polar bear enclosure at the zoo, the ones wearing buttons that read “Knut Forever.”
“Loss still feels like loss.” Yes, Knut was ‘just’ a polar bear who lived in a zoo in Germany and, just by doing the things polar bears (in zoos) do, came to mean a lot to many, even many who only saw him in videos on the internet or in a photo somewhere. He didn’t have to do anything special; he was special because he was Knut.
Small wonder that those who loved and enjoyed seeing him miss seeing him running, chewing on things and moving about.
Here are two videos of Knut that show him doing just those things (yes, I’m glad I took the time to watch them).
Previous Care2 Coverage
Photo of Knut by FinzUp64.