Polar bear Knut's death linked to encephalitis

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Knut at his debut at the Berlin Zoo in 2007

Two weeks after the celebrity polar bear Knut died unexpectedly, an autopsy report shows that the immediate cause of death was drowning. It also reveals Knut was suffering from a brain disorder resulting in a seizure that led to his fall into the water.

The four-year-old polar bear had been living at the at the Berlin zoo since birth and was a popular attraction. Just before his death he turned around in circles in front of hundreds of zoo visitors, and then fell into the pool in his enclosure and died.

The final autopsy report determined that a large amount of water was found in his lungs and the immediate cause of his death was drowning, said Achim Gruber, animal pathologist of Berlin’s Free University, at a news conference.

The autopsy also showed that Knut was suffering from encephalitis, a swelling and inflammation of the brain that can cause seizures, and is the likely explanation for his collapse into the pool, according to experts who studied the report. Knut's encephalitis was the result of an undetermined infection that was probably caused by a virus, said Claudia Szentiks, lead pathologist of Knut's autopsy. Ruled out during the autopsy were causes of encephalitis such as rabies or a prion disease.

Szentiks said, "Given the massive scale of the inflammation, Knut would probably have died sooner or later."

The zoo’s original plan to stuff Knut for display is being vigorously opposed by his fans, who have organized a "Stop the Stuffing of Knut" protest scheduled for Saturday.

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