Thomas Dörflein PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 December 2008 18:49

Thomas Dörflein

Born: 13 October 1963

Died: 22 September 2008, Berlin

Age: 44

Cause of death: Heart attack

Notable because: Thomas hand raised Knut the Polar bear, making Knut the most famous Polar bear ever, in a story that touched many.


Thomas Dörflein was a German zookeeper at the Berlin Zoological Garden for 26 years. After the polar bear cub Knut was abandoned by his mother shortly after his birth in 2006, Dörflein was assigned as the cub's caretaker. As a result of the zoo's controversial decision to raise Knut by hand, and the resultant close relationship between keeper and animal, Dörflein became a reluctant celebrity.

Zoo keeper Thomas Doerflein and polar bear Knut in March 2007On 5 December 2006, Knut and his unnamed brother were born at the Berlin Zoo. The cubs' mother rejected them for unknown reasons, abandoning them on a rock in the polar bear enclosure. Zoo keepers rescued the cubs by scooping them out of the enclosure with an extended fishing net, but Knut's brother died of an infection four days later. Only the size of a guinea pig, he spent the first 44 days of his life in an incubator before Dörflein began raising the cub.

Knut's need for around-the-clock care required that Dörflein not only sleep on a mattress next to Knut's sleeping crate at night, but also play with, bathe, and feed the cub daily. Knut's diet began with a bottle of baby formula mixed with cod liver oil every two hours, before graduating at the age of four months to a milk porridge mixed with cat food and vitamins. Dörflein also accompanied Knut on his twice-daily one-hour shows for the public and therefore appeared in many videos and photographs alongside the cub. As a result, Dörflein became a minor celebrity in Germany and was awarded Berlin's Medal of Merit in honor of his continuous care for the cub.

Flowers and condolences left at the entrance to the Zoo after Dörflein's death

Dörflein died suddenly at the age of 44 of a heart attack on 22 September 2008.

The zoo has established a prize for outstanding zookeepers in Dörflein's honor. The first Thomas Dörflein Prize, which will carry a €1,000 ($1,460) prize as well as a trophy, will be awarded in June 2009


Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 December 2008 18:55

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