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Polar bear Knut to get a female roommate

Knut

Everyone's favorite celebrity polar bear, Knut, finally has some company at the Berlin Zoo in the form of a female polar bear named Giovanna. 

Knut, now nearly 3 years old, first captured the attention of animal lovers around the world shortly after his birth in late 2006, when his mother rejected him and his sibling. The sibling didn't survive, but Knut did due to the efforts of his keeper, Thomas Doerflein, who decided to raise him by hand. (Doerflein died last year at age 44.)

Since the death of his sibling, Knut has been a solitary figure in the Berlin Zoo's polar bear enclosure.  (Last December, he even attracted the attention of a man who leapt into the water-filled ditch surrounding the exhibit, later claiming that he'd taken the bizarre action because Knut seemed "sad and lonely, and that he wanted to keep him company," according to a Berlin police department spokesperson.) 

Until now.  Giovanna, a 3-year-old polar bear from Munich's Hellebrunn Zoo, arrived in Berlin earlier this month. Her enclosure at the Munich zoo is being renovated, so she needed a temporary home; Knut's keepers hope that the two will form a friendly bond that could turn romantic down the line. (Polar bears don't typically reach sexual maturity until they're about 5 years of age.)

Berlin Zoo staffers are laying the groundwork for a potential friendship between the two bears by allowing them to interact through a fence. Zoo spokesperson Heiner Kloes said last week that "Giovanna has to get used to her new environment and get a grip on her nerves" before she and Knut meet publicly, but the Associated Press reports that they've already sniffed each other. They're expected to start cohabitating (sans separating fence) soon.

In July, the Berlin Zoo agreed to pay about $600,000 to the Neum√ľnster Zoo, also in Germany, to end an extended custody dispute over the famous polar bear. 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Knut in his enclosure on Sept. 16. (We hope he cleans up before his new roommate moves in.)  Credit: Maya Hitij / Associated Press

 
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