Farewell Inuka: 7 facts about the Singapore Zoo's first polar bear born in the tropics

Singapore-born Inuka was given a birthday "cake" made of ice blocks, whipped cream and fruits such as watermelon, kiwis, strawberries and apples.
Singapore-born Inuka was given a birthday "cake" made of ice blocks, whipped cream and fruits such as watermelon, kiwis, strawberries and apples. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

This article was first published on Dec 27, 2014, and updated on April 25, 2018.

SINGAPORE - Inuka, the first polar bear to be born in the tropics, has been put down on Wednesday (April 25), in a joint decision made by its vets and keepers on "humane and welfare grounds". 

Two weeks ago, on April 12, the Singapore Zoo revealed that the polar bear was in declining health.

The zoo's 27-year-old resident had gone through a health examination on April 10 and results showed it had a stiffer gait that was particularly noticeable in its hind limbs.

The abnormal shuffling gait resulted in abrasions on its paw pads, while age-related muscle atrophy was clearly evident.

Inuka then underwent a second health examination on Wednesday, after which its veterinary care team decided "not to revive him from anaesthesia on humane and welfare grounds", as results showed that its welfare had not improved significantly despite intensive treatment.

Born in 1990 at the Singapore Zoo in the early hours of Dec 26, Inuka would be well in its 70s if it were human.

Polar bears live an average of 25 years under human care, while male polar bears in the wild have a life expectancy of 15 to 18 years.

Here are seven other facts about Inuka.


1. Its name


Inuka responding to its trainers' call to stand and wave in a behind-the-scenes shoot on May 28, 2013. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Inuka is Inuit for "Silent Stalker". The name was chosen through a nationwide naming contest, which received over 10,000 entries.

Other entries included Arctos and Shardik.

Inuka was nicknamed "the sunbear" for how much he loved lazing and basking in the sun.

2. Its lineage


Inuka, with its mother Sheba, when it was less than a year old. PHOTO: SINGAPORE ZOO

Born on Dec 26, 1990, Inuka's parents were from countries far from hot and humid Singapore.

Its mother Sheba arrived from Germany when it was 14 months old, while the father Nanook came from Canada.

3. Its home


Inuka swimming in its pool in a photo taken on May 28, 2013. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Inuka's current enclosure costs $8 million. Its home, with much-needed space, is about the size of 2½ basketball courts and includes a large pool, waterfall and an ice cave.

Originally found in the Arctic, polar bears in the wild have been known to cover miles on foot, even running on land.

Researchers have even tracked wild females swimming long distances, covering up to 354km in 10 days. Inuka would have to make more than 2,000 rounds of its enclosure to cover that distance.

4. Its weight


Visitors to the Singapore Zoo taking photos of Inuka the polar bear on May 29, 2013. ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

Though Inuka weighed only 450g when it was born, it tipped the scales at 513kg in December 2017, with keepers adjusting his diet to keep his weight as close as possible to the optimum 520kg.

It measures 2.5m from nose to tail. According to Polar Bears International, the largest polar bear ever recorded was a male weighing 1,002kg. 

5. Its diet


A bucket of mackerel prepared for Inuka in a photo taken on May 28, 2013. ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR

Though polar bears hunt and feed on seals in the wild (for their blubber), Inuka is fed meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

The big mammal eats nearly 30kg of food a day.

Inuka's favourite food included fish, fruits and a loaf of bread. For its 16th birthday, Inuka feasted on a huge ice-kachang cake, which was packed with the bear's best-loved treats, including salmon, watermelon and berries.

6. Its fur 


Inuka eating in his den at the Singapore Zoo, on April 19, 2018. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Contrary to popular belief, the fur of polar bears is not white - it is actually transparent. 

However, due to the hollow core of each hair which reflects light, their fur appears white, similar that of snow. 

Inuka's fur often turned green from time to time, due to algae growth. 

7. Its favourite activity 


Inuka rolling around in its home that was built to resemble the arctic habitat. PHOTO: ST FILE

Even when it was 26 years old, Inuka remained as mischievous as ever, according to his zookeeper in a 2016 interview. 

Back then, it was observed "inventing" its own games with the enrichment devices, such as stacking tyres or arranging its food in parallel lines. These are good indicators that it is happy, said senior carnivore keeper Mohan Ponichamy.