Someone’s Killing German Celebrity Animals

Maybe you’ve heard of Knut, the polar bear cub at the Berlin Zoo who became famous a few years ago. Or Paul, the octopus in Oberhausen who correctly predicted all seven of Germany’s matches in the 2010 World Cup. You may not know about Heidi, Leipzig’s cross-eyed opossum, but in Germany she was almost as big a star.

What do these animals have in common, other than fame? They all died in unexplained ways after just a short time in the spotlight. Paul was simply “found dead” in his tank one morning, generating a storm of conspiracy theories:

According to Jiang Xiao, the director of a forthcoming thriller entitled Who Killed Paul the Octopus?, the creature had really been dead for the last three months. Jiang told the Guardian she was “60 to 70% sure” Paul had died in July and been secretly replaced by his keepers.
Explaining how such a deception could have been perpetrated, she added: “[Octopuses] all look the same. It is impossible to tell the difference.”

Within the next year, Knut had some kind of mysterious seizure-like reaction, fell into his moat, and drowned before the keepers could get him out. And Heidi had to be put down after developing “arthritis and other health problems.”

Now, am I suggesting that all three of them were being slowly poisoned by the same psychotic zookeeper, like the little girl in The Sixth Sense?

I hardly see how we can rule it out. But given that two of them died out of the spotlight, we really have no idea what happened to them, or how deep the conspiracy runs. And whoever’s behind it is getting desperate, because the stories keep getting less plausible. The latest rising star, a rabbit with no ears, was killed in March when (allegedly) a cameraman accidentally stepped on it.

Because my German reading level limits me to only the tabloid newspapers, I’ve gotten regular updates on Knut’s “fan club,” a group of charmingly insane women who gather regularly at his trainer’s grave — where they have purchased a plot for Knut as well, if only the zoo would turn over his body. Why is the zoo still wasting valuable freezer space on a polar bear popsicle? Could they be afraid of what an independent autopsy would turn up?

The death last month of Bao Bao, Berlin’s giant panda, seems a bit less suspicious given his advanced age, though the public is still waiting for the promised autopsy results. And Flocke, another celebrity bear in Nuremberg, managed to escape to France with her Russian boyfriend just before the killing spree began. But if I were a German zoo animal today, I’d be keeping a low profile. As long as this maniac remains at large, a little publicity could be a dangerous thing.