Remember Knut, the 4-year-old polar bear that live at a Berlin Zoo? Knut became an international celebrity when he was abandoned by his mother at birth. He was then hand raised by a zookeeper, but after suffering an epileptic fit, fell into his enclosure’s moat and then drowned in 2011.
Heiner Klös, a biologist at the Berlin Zoo who was responsible for Knut’s care, said: “There was absolutely nothing to see. I was there one hour before he died, and I saw him resting there and he recognized me and he was absolutely normal in his behavior,” wrote Live Science.
His death was surrounded in mystery until now. Scientists have discovered that Knut suffered from an autoimmune disease of the brain that had caused anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, which is inflammation of the brain.
The disease is a first for a non-human animal.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Harald Prüss of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Berlin, said: “Until now, this autoimmune disease has only been known in humans. In this illness, the body’s immune system overreacts and produces antibodies which damage nerve cells instead of fighting against pathogens,” reported The Independent.
Dr Prüss, who is an expert in human disorders and one of the authors, had seen regulates between Kunt’s post mortem reports and patients he had treated with the condition. But investigating scientists can find no reason for it. They had suspected there to be some kind of infection, but after all the pathogen screening, they still drew a blank.
Prüss explained in a statement: “Until now, this autoimmune disease has only been known in humans. In this illness, the body’s immune system overreacts and produces antibodies which damage nerve cells instead of fighting against pathogens. Epileptic seizures, hallucinations, and dementia are among the possible symptoms.”
Prof. Alex Greenwood, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and co-author, said: “Reflecting on it now, we’re very happy to reach the point where we can end the story by saying why he died; there’s some closure. Closure for him, but it opens up possibilities for other animals. He will be the trigger for research that may help not just other polar bears, but other wild and captured animals as well,” reported the BBC.