SINGAPORE - It will be the end of the road for Singapore's beloved polar bear Inuka on Wednesday (April 25), if a second medical examination that day reveals the 27-year-old animal is suffering.
The male bear suffers from arthritis, dental issues and occasional ear infections. Since the beginning of the year, he has also been lethargic and inactive, spending most of his days prone and unmoving, and has been on a constant cocktail of painkillers.
The Singapore Zoo said on Friday (April 20) that a team of veterinarians, zoologists and the zoo's animal welfare team will evaluate if his treatment can be modified to save him.
Inuka is the only polar bear to be born in the tropics.
Said senior veterinarian Abraham Mathew: "If we feel like he is improving and can do better with medication, we will reverse the anaesthesia."
"But if we feel that his welfare is compromised and his condition is going to continue deteriorating, then we will have to let him go peacefully," added Mr Mathew, the zoo's assistant director of veterinary services.
Inuka was found to be in declining health following an initial medical examination on April 3. Polar bears typically live between 15 and 18 years in the wild and 25 years under human care.
That would make Inuka well into its 70s in human years.
He 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.
Mr Mathew said Inuka usually has one major full body check-up a year.
The bear is anaesthetised during the check-up, allowing vets to conduct a thorough examination.
"It entails blood work, radiography, ear and eye examinations and general physical examinations," said Mr Mathew.
This is on top of regular weekly or bi-weekly visual medical assessments that Inuka's keepers conduct. The next full check was initially scheduled to take place only in June 2018.
Mr Mathew said: "Since January, keepers have noticed that he is resting more, moving much less. They monitor him very closely through CCTVs, and it was just becoming worse.
"That's when we realised we had better do something to find out what was going on."
With most of its problems being irreversible, Inuka is now on palliative care with its carers aiming to keep "make him as comfortable as possible".
If its condition worsens despite medical intervention, a decision will be made to put it down humanely on the same day.
"One criterion of animal welfare is to alleviate pain. We will not allow an animal to suffer. It's just not responsible," said Mr Mathew.