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Polar bear's appearances with keeper to stop in Berlin Zoo

Polar bear cub Knut will no longer appear with the keeper who raised him.

The zoo said Monday that it has ended seven-month-old Knut's twice-daily public appearances with keeper Thomas Doerflein. The playful pair have delighted audiences since Knut - then an irresistibly cute 9-kilogram (nearly 20-pound) cub - made his first public appearance in late March.

Now nearing 50 kilograms, or about 110 pounds, the boisterous bear, who will remain on public view, will have his enclosure all to himself.

"Mr. Doerflein's safety counts first of all, of course," zoo spokeswoman Regine Damm said. The zoo also has Knut's independence in mind, she added, as it prepares the bear to "associate with other bears and not with other people."

Born Dec. 5, Knut has been raised by Doerflein and other zoo staff after his mother rejected him and another cub that died. Knut went on public show March 23.

Doerflein said he remains on hand for Knut, although he will no longer play in public with the growing predator.

"This doesn't mean that I will never play with Knut again; it just means there are no fixed times anymore," he was quoted as saying by the daily B.Z. "I am always there for him. Knut is still a child; he needs me."

Doerflein said, however, that he feels "burnt out" after months of frolicking with Knut, and made clear that he has not always enjoyed being a celebrity in his own right.

"That is the worst thing. People want autographs, to touch me," he said. "When I am with my girlfriend, they invite me (for a drink); when I say 'no,' they get aggressive."

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