Knut's First Date Starts with a Whack to the Face

Berlin's star polar bear meets female companion for the first time.

September 30, 2009 — -- He was a hard-playing polar bear from Berlin. She was an Italian supermodel. He knew he would have just one chance to impress her.

And on Tuesday, it looks as though Knut did. Zookeepers in Berlin pronounced the first date between Berlin's polar bear star and Gianna, a three-year-old originally from Italy but now on loan to Berlin from the Munich zoo, a success.

Indeed, aside from Knut suffering an initial whack upside the head, the meetings -- one in the morning and another in the early afternoon -- were remarkably peaceful.

The Tuesday rendezvous marked the first time Knut had ever come into contact with another polar bear. Klös said that Knut was "completely surprised and astounded" when he first saw Gianna -- also called Giovanna -- tromping around in his enclosure. Zookeepers plan to increase the amount of time the two spend together with the eventual goal of having Gianna, whose Munich enclosure is currently being renovated, move in for nine months.

No Little Knuts Yet

Given the bears' ages -- Knut is also going on three -- there is little chance of anything more than a platonic friendship developing out of the liaison. Neither bear has yet reached sexual maturity. And it remains to be seen whether Gianna will take to Knut. She disliked her first intended mate in Munich so intensely that she had to be placed in a separate enclosure -- with Knut's grandmother.

Knut and Gianna have been kept in close proximity to each other since the beginning of September so they could get accustomed to each other's smells and recent days have seen Gianna, named after the Italian pop singer Gianna Nannini, romping alone in Knut's enclosure. Still, a team of zookeepers was on hand Tuesday morning to intervene should the meeting turn violent. Concern was heightened by a Saturday incident in Stralsund when a brown bear suddenly attacked and killed his female mate.

Becoming a Bear

Should Gianna and Knut become close pals, it could mark the end of a long period of loneliness for Berlin's ursine star. After his birth in late 2006, Knut was rejected by his mother and raised by hand, with much of the work falling to zookeeper Thomas Dörflein. But Knut's best friend died suddenly last September.

Now, however, Dörflein's vision for Knut's future is becoming reality. Shortly before he died, Dörflein said "Knut should be weaned from his close contact with humans. He should become a bear."

On Tuesday, Gianna began showing him how.

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