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The legend of the polar bear Knut, who became the darling of the zoological world before his death two years ago, is to live on in a lifesize model to be unveiled at the weekend.

The model of the bear will go on display at the Natural History Museum in Berlin and is expected to attract thousands of fans. The museum will open a special entrance just for the Knut visitors, who will be able to see the model for free.

The model, made of a dermoplastic, covered with Knut's fur and given glass eyes, was moulded from the bear's corpse after the idea of stuffing the body had been deemed disrespectful.

Museum staff said Knut was first modelled in clay, and from this model plates were created and filled with plaster, which was later replaced by a polyurethane foam. The method is increasingly replacing the traditional taxidermy procedure.

Knut became one of the biggest stars of the animal world after being rejected at birth by his mother, Tosca, a retired circus bear. His brother died but Knut was rescued by zoo staff in an operation that split opinions in the animal rights world, with several organisations saying it would have been better to have let the bear die.

Instead, the animal was brought up by humans, and became Berlin zoo's star attraction. Knut's first public appearance, in December 2006 at just a month old, was a worldwide media sensation, attracting thousands of visitors.

Knut became the most commercially successful for the zoo, at least animal in history. His image was reproduced on bedware and T-shirts, and as everything from soft toys to ice scrapers. He became a UN climate change symbol, and even appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo DiCaprio.

But the bear was diagnosed with psychological problems early on. He died in front of visitors in March 2011 when he fell into the pond in his enclosure and drowned. A postmortem examination diagnosed a brain defect.

Johannes Vogel, the new general director of the Natural History Museum, said he hoped Knut would attract a new wave of museum-goers. "We're aware of the strong symbolism this animal possesses," he said. "He stands for the protection of an endangered species and the fight against global climate change."

A museum spokeswoman, Gesine Steiner, said the model was "the genuine thing", even though Knut had not been stuffed.

"It's important to point out that we have not stuffed Knut," she said. "Rather, this is a plastic form, true to the original and covered with Knut's very own fur."

The museum did not say what had become of Knut's flesh but said his bones were being preserved separately.
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