Out of the many animals, big and small, that Mr Mohan Ponichamy has cared for, Inuka was by far the most famous and loved by Singaporeans, said the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) deputy head keeper.
"For the first time... we didn't walk into the den this morning to see a cheery Inuka greeting us. The space was empty," he said.
He was speaking at a private tribute ceremony for Inuka yesterday at the Singapore Zoo, where more than 400 zoo staff and guests paid their last respects to the first and only polar bear born in Singapore.
The Frozen Tundra at the zoo was packed with guests yesterday, many donning blue or white - a nod to the symbolic colours of Singapore's last polar bear and his enclosure.
Commemorative light blue ribbons were also passed around and worn by staff and guests, after a box of the ribbons was left at Inuka's enclosure by an anonymous zoo visitor yesterday morning.
Inuka, 27, who became in 1990 the first polar bear to be born in the tropics, in Singapore, was put down humanely on Wednesday after a medical check that day showed little improvement in his failing health.
Inuka, who would have been well into his 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 his health.
For the first time... we didn't walk into the den this morning to see a cheery Inuka greeting us. The space was empty.
MR MOHAN PONICHAMY, deputy head keeper of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
In a speech, Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive officer of Mandai Park Holdings, thanked Inuka's dedicated keepers for their care of the bear. "Inuka's end came in the most humane way possible, with his keepers, both past and present, in attendance," he said.
The ceremony began with Inuka's keepers going forward to put up pictures of the polar bear over the years to mark milestones such as birthdays. White roses were then placed in front of each framed photograph by representatives from WRS and SPH Foundation, which has supported Inuka since his birth, as well as Inuka's care team, consisting of both his keepers and vets.
Finally, a minute of applause was held as a tribute to the bear.
The zoo has also set up a memorial wall at the Frozen Tundra, where members of the
KEEPERS IN ATTENDANCE
Inuka's end came in the most humane way possible, with his keepers, both past and present, in attendance.
MR MIKE BARCLAY, group chief executive officer of Mandai Park Holdings, who thanked Inuka's dedicated keepers for their care of the bear in his speech.
public can pen tributes and bid farewell to Inuka. The memorial will be up till May 5.
In his tribute, Mr Ponichamy spoke of how fun-loving and "kaypoh" (inquisitive) Inuka was, much like Singaporeans. "I don't see a polar bear. I see a Singaporean," he said.
He also highlighted the dedication of members of Inuka's veterinary team, who would respond promptly every time to his questions about Inuka's condition, even if they were off duty. "Inuka will always have a place in our hearts. We can never forget him."