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Berlin's favorite polar bear to stay put

BERLIN'S beloved polar bear Knut can stay in his home city.

The Berlin Zoo said yesterday it will pay 430,000 euros (US$600,000) to the Neumuenster zoo to settle a financial dispute over ownership of the nearly three-year-old bear. Neumuenster owns Knut's father and had insisted it was the legal owner of Knut, the elder bear's first offspring.

Dubbed "cute Knut" by the German media, the polar bear quickly rose to global fame as a fluffy, cuddly cub rejected by his mother when he was born in captivity on December 5, 2006. The little bear was shown to the public 15 weeks later, and attendance at the zoo has roughly doubled since, officials there said.

The resulting "Knutmania" over the very photogenic bear led to a 2007 Vanity Fair cover with actor Leonardo DiCaprio shot by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, a film and even plush toys. The zoo has never released exact numbers, but Knut merchandise including postcards, key chains, candy and stuffed Knuts costing up to 29.95 euros have brought in hundreds of thousands of euros.

But visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the now full-grown Knut yesterday were met with disappointment. Crowds of locals and tourists peered over railing only to see a zookeeper cleaning the polar bear's cage with a hose.

Caroline Schulz, from Berlin, was happy the bear will stay in Berlin.

"It's nice that he can stay in his home city, because he's so well-known here, but it's too bad that he's not out today," said Schulz. "We came especially to see Knut."


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