Singapore's only local-born polar bear Inuka commemorated in a new book

(From left) Author Alan John, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, former politician  Suppiah Dhanabalan and illustrator Quek Hong Shin at the launch of a children’s book titled The One And Only Inuka, published by Straits Times Press, at the Singapore
(From left) Author Alan John, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, former politician Suppiah Dhanabalan and illustrator Quek Hong Shin at the launch of a children’s book titled The One And Only Inuka, published by Straits Times Press, at the Singapore Zoo on Dec 26, 2018.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - When veteran journalist Alan John's firstborn 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.

Regularly, the family of four, who lived near the zoo, would go back to visit the polar bear.

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

"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 this year.

In September, Mr John met 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 on Wednesday (Dec 26), 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 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.



The One and Only Inuka was launched at the Singapore Zoo on Dec 26, 2018, on what would have been the bear's 28th birthday. ST PHOTO: JOSEPH CHUA 

For him, Inuka's key defining feature was his greenish fur, 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 doesn't affect his health in reality. I actually think that's the distinctive feature of Inuka. It is pretty special."

Added Mr John: "Hong Shin and I hope that this book will help all of us who knew Inuka over nearly three decades to 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 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 WRS and one of Inuka's primary carers for his last three years, said of Inuka: "He has given us so many happy memories, for which we are truly thankful. More than that, he has been 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.