The global sensation polar bear Knut died to a tragic and rare autoimmune disease, as scientists discover years after the adorable animal’s saddening demise. Media exploded in 2011, when the popular polar bear mysteriously drowned in his enclosure at the Berlin zoo, and was believed to be due to a swelling of the brain, or encephalitis.
The tragic death drew the attention of millions of mourners, some even laying flowers, soulful cards and lighting candles by his cage. He was born in 2007, rejected by his mother and then became an overnight global celebrity when it was raised by his keeper, Thomas Doerflein.
The adorable little fluff of white and mischief was visited by millions of people, attracted the attention of even more on the internet, and earned the Berlin zoo millions of dollars. His death remained a mystery to the cause, though doctors have attributed it to encephalitis. The cause of the disorder, however, remained unknown.
Many believed that the fatal disease was caused by a virus or a bacteria, but a German neuroscientist, Harald Pruess, stated that additional testing led to the answer of Knut’s death. The famous polar bear that became the image of the Berlin zoo, died due to anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which means that his demise was caused due to antibodies.
They triggered an epileptic fit, which has led the adorable 4-year old bear to fall into the waters and drown. It has only been in the last decade that the disease has been discovered in animals, and predators such as bears, would not have shown the discomfort and weakness it causes. The instinct of always needing to look strong has led to the unfortunate death of Knut.
Early symptoms of the disease included headache and fever, but in later stages, it could present with mood disorders, psychotic episodes, hallucinations and dementia, all of which would be a bit trickier to observe in animals, but not impossible.
What is one of the true tragedies to Knut’s death, is that with a bit more attention from the zookeeper’s part and a bit more luck, the polar bear’s life might have been saved. Most who suffer from encephalitis are eventually cured with steroids and removal of the antibodies from their blood.
The once adorable tiny cub that overtook news worldwide could have been alive today, if not for unfortunate circumstances.
Last year, Knut’s body had been stuffed and placed on display in a Berlin museum, along with a bronze statue erected of the polar bear within the Berlin zoo with the words “Knut the Dreamer”.
Image source: thetimes.co.uk