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Zoo custody dispute over Knut the polar bear ends; he'll remain in Berlin

July 8, 2009 | 12:08 pm

Knut the polar bear The custody battle over celebrity polar bear Knut is now over, with the Berlin Zoo -- where he's lived since his birth in 2006 -- agreeing to pay 430,000 euros (about $600,000 U.S.) to keep him.

Knut and a sibling were born to the Berlin Zoo's female polar bear, Tosca, and a male polar bear named Lars that was on loan to Berlin from the Neumünster Zoo, also in Germany.  According to Neumünster, it had made an agreement with Berlin that it would own Lars' first offspring.

Tosca rejected her cubs shortly after they were born, and Knut's sibling died.  Knut survived and became a beloved international figure -- even gracing the cover of Vanity Fair -- when his keeper, Thomas Doerflein, decided to raise him by hand.  (Doerflein died last year at age 44.)

With Knut's celebrity came increased revenue to the Berlin Zoo through ticket sales and marketing tie-ins (his likeness has been featured on calendars, postcards, coffee mugs, jigsaw puzzles and other products) -- of which the Neumünster Zoo said it was entitled to a share. 

A showdown of sorts developed between Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaskiewitz and Neumünster Zoo director Peter Drüwa, eventually ending up in a Berlin court in May.  Berlin expressed interest in buying Knut at the time, thereby negating Neumünster's claim to his profits, but Neumünster maintained that its offer was nowhere near Knut's actual worth. 

The judge overseeing the case proposed a settlement wherein Berlin would pay 700,000 euros (a little less than $1 million U.S.) for Knut, but Blaskiewitz said Berlin couldn't afford to pay more than 350,000 euros (a little under $500,000 U.S.).  The judge ordered both sides to continue negotiating outside the courtroom and come up with an agreement. 

The monetary agreement announced today represents a compromise, with Berlin paying the 350,000 euros it says it can afford this year and 40,000 euros per year for the next two years.  During a news  conference, Blaskiewitz called the agreement between the two zoos "amicable" and said he believed staying in Berlin was "the best solution for Knut."

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-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Knut celebrating his first birthday in December 2007.  Credit: John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images

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