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Last Updated: Monday, 9 July 2007, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Berlin zoo ends bear-keeper romps
Knut the bear and his keeper

A polar bear cub who became the star attraction at a Berlin zoo is to stop appearing in shows with his keeper because he has grown too big.

The zoo said Knut the polar bear would no longer frolic with keeper Thomas Doerflein in twice-daily shows that have drawn more than a million people.

The seven-month-old bear, now weighing 50kg (110 lbs), will reportedly have his enclosure entirely to himself.

He was adopted by Mr Doerflein after his mother rejected him at birth.

Media interest in Knut's story soared after an animal rights activist was quoted as saying the bear ought to have been killed - rather than being reared by humans.

The activist later complained he had been misquoted, AFP news agency says.

Safety concerns

Knut and his keeper began putting on twice-daily shows for the public in March.

I am always there for him. Knut is still a child. He needs me
Thomas Doerflein
Knut's keeper

The diminutive, white bear and his pony-tailed, muscular handler rapidly became international stars, delighting visitors with their playful tussling.

The zoo produced a range of merchandise featuring Knut and trademarked his name.

Mr Doerflein slept in the same room as Knut and bottle-fed him to compensate for the absence of his mother.

On Monday, a zoo spokesman said Knut's growing bulk meant he was now capable of injuring his keeper.

"Mr Doerflein's safety counts first of all, of course," zoo spokeswoman Regine Damm said.

She said the zoo also wanted to train Knut to associate "with other bears and not with other people".

Mr Doerflein was quoted as saying the zoo's decision would not prevent him playing with the bear.

"This doesn't mean that I will never play with Knut again, it just means there are no fixed times anymore," German daily BZ quoted him as saying.

"I am always there for him. Knut is still a child. He needs me."

The keeper also said he felt "burnt out" after months of frolicking with Knut and did not entirely enjoy his new-found fame.

"People want autographs, to touch me," he told the paper.

"When I am with my girlfriend, they invite me [for a drink]. When I say 'no', they get aggressive."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
How Knut first hit the headlines



SEE ALSO
Baby bear becomes media star
23 Mar 07 |  Europe
Berlin rallies behind baby bear
20 Mar 07 |  Europe

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