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Video: Tributes pour in for polar bear Knut

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updated 4/1/2011 5:45:49 AM ET 2011-04-01T09:45:49

Germany's celebrity polar bear Knut died from drowning after collapsing due to swelling of his brain and falling into his enclosure's pool, an expert said Friday.

Pathologist Claudia Szentiks said a necropsy of the 4-year-old bear who died suddenly two weeks ago showed he was suffering from encephalitis, an irritation and swelling of the brain that was likely brought on by an infection.

She said it was unclear specifically what caused the brain swelling, but that experts had ruled out rabies, botulism and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.

Szentiks also rejected allegations from animal-rights groups that he was traumatized by living in a zoo environment, saying that there were no indications of any chronic stress.

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Photoblog: More images of Germany's most famous bear

She added that even if Knut had not drowned after his collapse, he would not have survived the damage from the encephalitis.

Knut died March 19 in front of visitors at Berlin zoo, turning around several times and then falling into the water in his enclosure. Polar bears usually live 15 to 20 years in the wild and even longer in captivity.

Story: Knut, Berlin's beloved polar bear, dies in his compound

Knut, who was born in December 2006 at the zoo, rose to celebrity status as an irresistibly cute, fluffy cub.

Knut was rejected by his mother at birth — along with his twin brother, who only survived a couple of days. He attracted attention when his main caregiver, Thomas Doerflein, camped out at the zoo to give the button-eyed cub his bottle every two hours.

Story: Newt (the politician) mourns Knut (the polar bear)

The bear went on to appear on magazine covers, in a film and on mountains of merchandise.

Doerflein, the zookeeper who raised him, died in 2008 of a heart attack.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Knut the polar bear

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  1. Visitors watch polar bear cub Knut in the Berlin zoo, March 24, 2007. Knut, the polar bear who became a global celebrity as a cute cub, died in at the Berlin zoo March 19, 2011 at the age of four. Knut, the first polar bear born at the zoo for more than 30 years, was rejected by his mother and fed instead by his keeper Thomas Doerflein. Thousands of visitors came to watch keeper and cub playing together, and Knut's fame soon spread around the world. The cause of death was unknown and he will undergo an autopsy. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Knut has his first public appearance with his keeper Thomas Doerflein in the Berlin zoo, March 23, 2007. (Herbert Knosowski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Knut playing with a blanket at his enclosure of the Berlin zoo, March 28, 2007. (Marcus Brandt / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Knut plays with a foot of his minder Thomas Doerflein at the zoo in Berlin, June 11, 2007. (Marcus Brandt / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Knut eats his one-year birthday "cake" at the Berlin zoo Dec. 5, 2007, in Berlin, Germany. Zoo officials celebrated Knut's one year birthday by inviting the public and the media to watch Knut eat his cake, whose ingredients included rice, potatoes, carrots and a whole fish. (Anita Bugge / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Knut is refelcted in a window as he takes a bath Jan. 11, 2008 in his enclosure at the zoo in Berlin. (Axel Schmidt / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Knut takes a bath in his outdoor enclosure at the zoo in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 6, 2009. (Rainer Jensen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Knut swims in common duckweed at the zoo of Berlin, Sept. 14, 2009. (Rainer Jensen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Knut, right, and Giovanna, a female polar bear on loan from the Munich zoo, play tug of war as they swim in their enclosure at Berlin's Zoologischer Garten zoo Jan. 8. (John Macdougall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Polar bears Knut, left, and Giovanna cuddle at their enclosure at the Berlin zoo on March 4, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Knut interacts with with six-year-old visitor Nane and her cushy polar bear "Knut" at the Tiergarten zoo in Berlin on Oct. 19. German newspapers reported today that the world famous polar bear is being bullied by his fellow polar bears in their enclosure in the Berlin zoological garden. (Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Knut rolls in the snow in his enclosure at Berlin's Zoologischer Garten zoo, Jan. 8, 2010. (John Macdougall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Knut stands in his enclosure, March 26, 2010. (Action Press / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Knut yawns in his enclosure at the zoo in Berlin, Dec. 10, 2010. (Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Children stand in front of polar bear Knut's enclosure at the Berlin zoo on March 21, 2011. Germany was in stunned mourning after the sudden and premature death of Knut, Berlin's world-famous polar bear, who died on March 19. Zoo visitors signed a condolence book, left notes, flowers and candles in tribute to the beloved bear. (Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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