Letting go of Inuka

Zoo takes decision on humane grounds; tribute wall up at enclosure for visitors to pen their thoughts

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 made the decision on humane and welfare grounds.

The zoo will put up a tribute wall at Inuka's 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, 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 had 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.

Despite additional treatment over the past three 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 Singapore Zoo, said: "Difficult as it may be, it would not have been fair to prolong his suffering."

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has supported Inuka since its birth. SPH Foundation, the charity arm of SPH, took over the adoption of the bear from 2007.

Said Dr Lee Boon Yang, chairman of SPH Foundation: "Over the years, he has brought so much joy to many, and we now share everyone's sorrow over his passing.

"We believe that WRS' decision to let him go is in his best interest, and would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the Singapore Zoo for taking good care of him all these years," he added.

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 Singapore Zoo soon after.

Singaporeans have seen Inuka over its lifespan and many people turned up at the zoo to leave cards and letters at its enclosure.

Inuka is Inuit for "Silent Stalker", a name chosen from over 10,000 entries during a nationwide naming contest.

Inuka's father, Nanook, died in 1995 at the age of 18, while its mother, Sheba, died in 2012 at the age of 35. Anana, a female polar bear, died in 1999.

WRS yesterday reiterated that Inuka will be Singapore's last polar bear. The zoo had said in 2006 that it would not bring any more polar bears to Singapore, following discussions with its Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee.

Zoo visitors were downbeat when they learnt that Inuka had been put down. Housewife Pamela Lee, 41, took her four-year-old daughter, Bliss, to the zoo specially to catch the bear yesterday.

Ms Lee said that Bliss was disappointed not to see Inuka, but she understood it was sick and had to go.

In a Facebook post published yesterday, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam expressed his sadness over Inuka's death.

"So many memories down the years, such a favourite. He was well cared for and received lots of love. Will be missed," he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Letting go of Inuka'. Print Edition | Subscribe