Singapore

Singaporeans mourn as Inuka is put down

Singapore Zoo's iconic polar bear put down on humane grounds after health check

Singapore's last polar bear Inuka was put down yesterday morning after a medical examination showed little improvement in its failing health.

The Singapore Zoo said it had made the decision on humane and welfare grounds.

Photos released by the Singapore Zoo yesterday evening detail Inuka's final health check as well as his last moments, surrounded by past and present keepers who had cared for him.

The zoo will put up a tribute wall at its enclosure from today for visitors to pen their thoughts on Inuka, the first polar bear born in the tropics and one of the zoo's top attractions.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) has stated that Inuka will not be buried. It will perform a full autopsy on the polar bear and might preserve parts of it for educational purposes.

The zoo is exploring the possibility of turning Inuka's enclosure into a sea lion exhibit.

Inuka was born on Dec 26, 1990, 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 zoo soon after.

Over the years, Singaporeans watched Inuka grow up and grew fond of the bear.

When news of its declining health broke, many people turned up at the zoo to leave cards and letters at its enclosure.

Inuka, which would have been well into its 70s in human years, had been suffering from age-related ailments such as arthritis, dental issues and occasional ear infections for the past five years.

A medical examination on April 3 revealed a significant decline in its health.

Its weakening limbs could not support its weight of more than 500kg. It took to dragging its feet, which led to ulcerations on its pads and deep infection between its toes.

It also had a wound on its lower abdomen, likely caused by urine burns from incontinence and recurring urinary tract infections.

DISCOMFORT

Despite additional treatment over the past weeks, the open wounds on Inuka did not improve much. These would cause it pain and discomfort, and would only worsen with its arthritis.

At 27, Inuka had surpassed the average life expectancy of polar bears, which typically live 15 to 18 years in the wild and 25 years under human care.

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."

Mr Mohan Ponichamy, deputy head keeper at the zoo, said: "Difficult as it may be, it would not have been fair to prolong his suffering."

He had looked after the bear for 2½ years, and said Inuka was easy-going and extremely comfortable with everybody, even strangers.

"Usually, for most animals, if they don't recognise you, they will get stressed out. But not Inuka - he was comfortable.

"He would get happy seeing the crowd and just lie down and watch them," he told The Straits Times.

"He was brave and special. We did have a bond, but it was not a usual bond. He bonded with all of us... and bonded all of us together."

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES TODAY

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