Book on Inuka captures polar bear's life, personality

Mr Alan John and Mr Quek Hong Shin, with Inuka's caretakers (from left), Mr Stefan Ng, Ms Yasmin Basir and Mr Mohan Ponichamy. (From left) Author Alan John, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, former minister S. Dhanabalan, who is chairman of Mandai Park
Mr Alan John and Mr Quek Hong Shin, with Inuka's caretakers (from left), Mr Stefan Ng, Ms Yasmin Basir and Mr Mohan Ponichamy. ST PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO
Mr Alan John and Mr Quek Hong Shin, with Inuka's caretakers (from left), Mr Stefan Ng, Ms Yasmin Basir and Mr Mohan Ponichamy. (From left) Author Alan John, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, former minister S. Dhanabalan, who is chairman of Mandai Park
(From left) Author Alan John, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, former minister S. Dhanabalan, who is chairman of Mandai Park Holdings, which oversees zoo operator Wildlife Reserves Singapore, and the book's illustrator Quek Hong Shin at the launch of The One And Only Inuka at the Singapore Zoo yesterday.ST PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO

Veteran journalist and author of kids' book was inspired by memories of Inuka during regular family trips to zoo

When veteran journalist Alan John's daughter Nicola was two years old back in 1991, he and his wife took her to the Singapore Zoo to see Inuka - the first polar bear to be born in the tropics.

A year later, their son Zachary was born. The family of four, who lived near the zoo, would regularly go back to visit the polar bear.

Mr John, 65, former deputy editor of The Straits Times, said he always had an affinity for Inuka, alongside Ah Meng the orang utan, another of the zoo's iconic animals.

"With Inuka, there were many very good memories," he said.

"If you look through the stories of his life, whether in newspaper clippings or videos, you would know that this was an animal at the zoo that really brought thousands of people together."

Inuka died on April 25.

In September, Mr John met his former colleague, illustrator Quek Hong Shin, 38, to discuss the possibility of a children's book on Inuka.

 
 

The One And Only Inuka, published by Straits Times Press, was launched by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at the Singapore Zoo yesterday, on what would have been the bear's 28th birthday.

The 36-page book, which has sold more than 800 copies to date, features interesting nuggets on Inuka's life and personality, such as his elaborate birthday cakes and his penchant for stacking tyres.

Part of the proceeds from the launch sales will go to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund.

About 50 fund beneficiaries and their family members, as well as Inuka's keepers and staff of Singapore Zoo and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), were at the launch.

SPH had supported Inuka's upkeep since his birth in 1990 and SPH Foundation, the charity arm of SPH, took over his adoption from 2007.

Mr Quek took a month to complete the artwork, based on old photos and video footage of Inuka.

Referring to Inuka's greenish fur, which was caused by the presence of algae in the water, he said: "Some people wondered if Inuka was sick because of the green fur, but the algae didn't affect his health. I actually think that was the distinctive feature of Inuka. It was pretty special."

Said Mr John: "Hong Shin and I hope that this book will help all of us who knew Inuka over nearly three decades remember the best of this tropical polar bear who loved a crowd and made a big impression on all who visited him."

Said housewife Noor Leana Juma'at, 40, who was at the book's launch with her three children: "When I was young, I remember seeing Inuka and his mother. When my children were growing up, they saw Inuka. In a way, this book is a reminder of our childhood."

Mr Mohan Ponichamy, deputy head keeper at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which manages the zoo, and one of Inuka's primary carers during his last three years, said: "Inuka gave us so many happy memories for which we are truly thankful. More than that, he was a wonderful voice for his wild cousins and offered many Singaporeans a glimpse into the Arctic. Inuka will always live on deeply in our hearts."

The One And Only Inuka is on sale at all major bookstores, the Singapore Zoo gift shop and ST Press Books e-store at www.stbooks.sg for $16, inclusive of GST.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'Book on Inuka captures polar bear's life, personality'. Print Edition | Subscribe