On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Knut, will he really be the world’s most famous stuffed animal?

Knut, the posterbear of a dysfunctional family and the controversy regarding large animals in captivity, also brings to light another interesting conundrum in his passing: how do we grieve and cope with the loss of an international animal? Knut truly was a global icon. Germans and tourists enjoyed visiting the zoo to observe Knut’s infant antics firsthand, but the world too watched him grow into adolescence through print, radio and virtual mediums. In this high tech, information-saturated, global community, how do we say goodbye? Is it uncouth to stuff Knut?

Keepers with the Berlin Zoo are in conversation with the city’s Natural History Museum to evaluate the possibility of displaying Knut – stuffed and preserved – within its gallery space. Some have suggested that this would be a way for Knut’s fans to bid farewell and have some sort of closure. Currently, almost 8,000 individuals have signed the Zoo’s online memorial for Knut.

From a museum standpoint, this conversation is a curious one. (For the record, zoos are considered museums too; their collections would be the animals themselves.) Some media outlets allege that Knut will be the world’s most famous stuffed animal. Perhaps in terms of today’s staggering population that might be true, but he certainly won’t be the first. Take for instance, Owney the Postal Dog, who took the world by storm in his postal excursions around North America and abroad. Or Hachiko, the source of inspiration for Richard Gere’s film of the same name; he’s also stuffed and showcased in Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science. Museum curators are charged with the task of deciding which objects or live animals to acquire and how they should be displayed. In essence, a curator can decide if it’s uncouth to stuff Knut. Does he have a place in the Natural History Museum?

Will his body continue to promote wildlife conservation? After all, that’s one of the main arguments for housing exotic animals like Knut in a zoo setting. And reflecting/interpreting the purpose of an object or animal is one of the central objectives of a museum. The Edward Gorey House, in honoring the intentions of the artist himself, decided to auction off Gorey’s remaining fur coats in order to further the care and welfare of animals. Will Knut’s being in a museum further the cause of wildlife preservation? Where and/or how does his individuality come into play?

What do you think? Should Knut’s legacy or body be preserved in a museum? What exactly is his legacy? Is there another way to remember him? Should we remember him collectively?

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