Page last updated at 09:59 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Berlin's zoo may lose bear Knut

Knut at the Berlin Zoo. Photo: October 2008
Knut is not quite so cute now - but his fans still adore him

The warm feeling surrounding Germany's celebrity polar bear Knut is turning icy ahead of his second birthday on Friday - because Berlin may lose him.

Knut's father came from Neumuenster Zoo, which is still entitled to Knut under a contract with Berlin Zoo.

Fans of Knut, who has proven a big money-spinner for Berlin Zoo, are urging the zoo director to keep him in the capital, German media report.

But Knut is expected to move from Berlin in the first half of next year.

After his birth in 2006, Knut suddenly became an international celebrity, drawing huge crowds to the Berlin Zoo and the cub even appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair.

A spokeswoman for Gelsenkirchen Zoo said Knut would be a fine partner for her zoo's female polar bear Lara. Other zoos have also expressed interest in Knut.

First steps of Knut the polar bear at Berlin Zoo

But Berlin Zoo director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz, quoted by the Deutsche Welle news website, said "We entered into a contract which stated that the first surviving cub is owned by Neumuenster Zoo - and that is Knut."

The zoo authorities in Neumuenster, in the north German state of Schleswig-Holstein, say they are still unsure where Knut will go.

In 2007 alone Knut generated more than 5m euros (4.2m; $6.3m) in extra income for Berlin Zoo, from the sale of tickets, cuddly Knut toys, T-shirts and other Knut-branded items, the German newspaper Tagesspiegel reports.

"Berlin will not only be losing its best ambassador, but also a true landmark, much to the regret of its international guests," said a Berlin Tourism Marketing official, Christian Taenzler.

Another Berlin tourism official, Hanns Peter Nerger, was quoted as saying "Berlin must not give Knut away - it would be like losing a family friend."

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