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Courtesy of Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG
Courtesy of Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG

The Mystery of Knut the Polar Bear's Death Has Finally Been Revealed

Courtesy of Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG
Courtesy of Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG

In March 2011, the tumultuous saga of the world’s most-beloved polar bear came to a sudden halt. Knut, the famous polar bear who was rejected by his mother at birth and raised by zookeepers at the Berlin Zoo, died unexpectedly when he drowned in his enclosure’s pool during an epileptic fit. 

A necropsy showed that the seizure was brought on by encephalitis, an irritation and swelling of the brain. What was causing his brain-swelling was previously unknown, but the loyal Knut fans who’ve been waiting four years for this last bit of closure can finally rest easy. 

Scientists have found that Knut was suffering from an autoimmune disease known as "anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.” What experts had previously suspected to be an infection, this non-infectious illness causes the immune system to overreact by creating antibodies that damage an organism’s nerve cells instead of fighting pathogens. Early symptoms include headaches, nausea, and low-grade fever and can lead to hallucinations, dementia, and in Knut’s case, seizures. Knut is the first non-human ever to be diagnosed with this disease. 

During his brief four years, Knut was the subject of fame and controversy. After being abandoned by his mother as a newborn, zookeeper Thomas Dörflein took on the task of raising Knut, even going so far as to camp out next to his crate every night. The world soon took notice, and Knut-mania was born. The bear cub became the subject of toys, books, and magazine cover stories. Fans flocked to the Berlin Zoo to catch a glimpse of the celebrity, while others marched outside to protest him being kept in captivity

His death was a shock to animal-lovers everywhere; let us take a moment to reflect on Knut’s tragically short existence with this collection of adorable photos. 

Rest in peace, you beautiful fur ball.

All photos courtesy of Zoologischer Garten Berlin AG

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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