If you’re a fan of Inuka or have been following the polar bear’s news closely, prepare tissue paper as you read this.
Singapore’s last polar bear Inuka was put down on Wednesday morning (April 25) after a health check-up showed that the 27-year-old animal’s ailing health had not improved significantly.
The Singapore Zoo said it made the decision not to revive Inuka from anaesthesia on humane and welfare grounds.
A preliminary medical examination on April 3 had revealed that the male polar bear was in declining health.
On top of existing health conditions, including arthritis, dental issues and occasional ear infections, Inuka was found to have had additional age-related problems of muscle atrophy and open sores on its paw pads, leading to an abnormal shuffling gait.
Inuka was the first polar bear to be born in the tropics. At 27, it surpassed the average life expectancy of polar bears, which typically live 15 to 18 years in the wild and 25 years under human care. Inuka would have been well into its 70s in human years.
The zoo will be putting up a tribute wall at Inuka’s enclosure from Thursday for visitors to pen their tributes to the bear. It will hold a private memorial service for Inuka on Thursday as well.
Inuka will not be buried. The zoo will perform a full autopsy on the polar bear and might preserve parts of it for educational purposes.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which runs the zoo, did not elaborate when asked at a media briefing which parts of Inuka would be preserved.
With a heavy heart, we bade farewell to our beloved senior polar bear Inuka this morning. Despite the best efforts of…
Inuka’s enclosure will be refurbished and the zoo is thinking of turning it into a sea lion exhibit.
Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, WRS’ deputy chief executive officer and chief life sciences officer, said: “Our decision to let Inuka go was made with the knowledge that his health issues have seriously impacted his welfare.”
“As much as we would like to keep Inuka with us for as long as possible, our ultimate responsibility is his welfare,” Dr Cheng added.
Said Mr Mohan Ponichamy, deputy head keeper at the Singapore Zoo: “It has been a privilege and honour being his caregiver. But, difficult as it may be, it would not have been fair to prolong his suffering.”
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) supported Inuka since its birth. SPH Foundation, the charity arm of SPH, took over the adoption of the bear from 2007.
Singaporeans watched Inuka grow up since its birth on Dec 26, 1990. Zookeepers previously affectionately referred to Inuka as their best Christmas present ever, and the bear was often treated to a “cake” made up of ice blocks for its birthday.
Inuka was a well-loved attraction among zoo visitors. When news of its declining health made headlines, many people turned up at the zoo to leave cards and letters at its enclosure.
Its name is Inuit for “Silent Stalker”. The name was chosen through a nationwide naming contest, which received more than 10,000 entries.
It was born to much fanfare after its parents – Nanook and Sheba – were brought to Singapore in 1978. A third bear, Anana, joined Inuka’s parents at the Singapore Zoo soon after.
Inuka’s father, Nanook, died in 1995 at the age of 18, while its mother, Sheba, died in 2012 at the age of 35, the second-oldest polar bear in the world then. Anana, a female polar bear, died in 1999.
WRS on Wednesday reiterated that Inuka will be Singapore’s last polar bear. This comes after the zoo announced in 2006 that it would not bring any more polar bears to Singapore, following discussions with its Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee.
Image: Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s Facebook
Text: Kimberly Chia / The Straits Times / April 2018
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