Singapore Zoo puts down ailing polar bear Inuka at 27

Singapore Zoo puts down ailing polar bear Inuka at 27
Inuka in 2015.
PHOTO: The New Paper file

The Singapore Zoo bade a sad farewell this morning to one of its most well-loved animals, polar bear Inuka. The 27-year-old was put down this morning (April 25) on 'humane and welfare grounds'.

Inuka was known as the world’s first polar bear born in the tropics, on December 26, 1990.

The health of the Zoo’s golden resident and Singapore's last polar bear had declined markedly in the past three months.

In addition to age-related ailments such as arthritis and general muscle atrophy among others, Inuka had recently started exhibiting a stiffer gait, particularly in his hind limbs, which contributed to open sores on his paw pads and led to infection between his toes. Aside from that, he also had a wound on his lower abdomen, likely caused by urine burns from incontinence and recurring urinary tract infections, said Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) in a statement on Wednesday (April 25).

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His condition did not improve significantly despite intensive treatment after a preliminary health examination three weeks ago. According to the statement, the zoo vets and his care team agreed to not revive him from anesthesia on humane and welfare grounds following a second health examination today.

Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Wildlife Reserves Singapore's (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." WRS runs the zoo.

"As much as we would like to keep Inuka with us for as long as possible, our ultimate responsibility is his welfare," Dr Cheng added.

Singapore Zoo staff pay tribute to polar bear Inuka

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    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 deputy head keeper at a tribute to the bear.

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    "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.

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    The private tribute ceremony for Inuka, the first and only polar bear to be born in Singapore, was held on Thursday morning (April 26) at the Frozen Tundra in the Singapore Zoo, where more than 400 zoo staff and guests paid their last respects.

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    In his tribute, Mr Ponichamy spoke of the bear's fun-loving personality. He said Inuka, was extremely "kaypoh", much like his fellow countrymen.

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    "I don't see a polar bear," he said. "I see a Singaporean."

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    Finally, a minute of applause was held as a tribute to the bear.

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    The Singapore Zoo bade a sad farewell on Wedneday (April 25) to one of its most well-loved animals, polar bear Inuka. Inuka died surrounded by his current and former keepers.

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    The zoo vets and his care team agreed to not revive him from anesthesia on humane and welfare grounds following a second health examination on Wednesday (April 25).

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    The 27-year-old was put down on 'humane and welfare grounds'.

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    Deputy CEO and Chief Life Sciences Dr Cheng Wen-Haur (in green) examines Inuka’s lower abdomen on April 25, 2018.

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    Inuka was known as the world’s first polar bear born in the tropics, on December 27, 1990.

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    The health of the Zoo’s golden resident had declined markedly in the past three months.

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    At 27 years, Inuka was akin to a human being in his 70s, and had outlived the lifespan of wild male polar bears by more than a decade. In the wild, male polar bears typically live between 15-18 years, said WRS.

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    Its upkeep since birth was supported by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). SPH Foundation, the charity arm of SPH, took over the adoption from 2007.

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    Inkua as a cub.

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    Inuka, the first polar bear born in the tropics, has reached the grand old age of 27 - well into his 70s in human years and two years older than the average lifespan of the creatures in captivity.

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    Wildlife Reserves Singapore said an April 3 examination revealed that the health of Inuka, who has been receiving treatment for arthritis for some time, had declined markedly.

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    The bear's activity levels have fallen over the past three months and he now prefers resting over interacting with his keepers, a statement said.

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    Inuka - who was born at the zoo, which describes him as their "most prominent senior resident" - had been popular with visitors due to his playful antics in his pool enclosure.

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    But he has now cut back on swimming, his walking is stiffer, and he is less interested in his daily playing sessions involving traffic cones, balls and ice blocks embedded with his favourite food, the zoo said.

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    Veterinarians have ramped up the bear's daily care regimen and are administering medication, and a second health check will take place in late April.

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    "If results indicate that Inuka's welfare is not improving with these intensive treatments,

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    his care team may have to make the very difficult decision not to allow him to recover from anaesthesia on humane and welfare grounds," said the statement.

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    Inuka's annual birthday celebration is one of the high points for visitors in the zoo's calendar,

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    and last year he celebrated with a special jelly and salmon cake.

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At 27 years, Inuka was akin to a human being in his 70s, and had outlived the lifespan of wild male polar bears by more than a decade. In the wild, male polar bears typically live between 15 and 18 years, said WRS.

Its upkeep since birth was supported by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). SPH Foundation, the charity arm of SPH, took over the adoption from 2007.

“Singaporeans have known Inuka from the time he was a cub, and have seen him growing up and ageing. Many of us grew up with him. It has been a privilege and honour being his caregiver, but difficult as it may be, it would not have been fair to prolong his suffering.

"We would like to thank the many people who showed their love and concern for Inuka, especially this past month. We will miss our Inuka dearly and it will take some time to get used to not seeing him readily waiting to greet us every morning,” said Mohan Ponichamy, Deputy Head Keeper, and one of Inuka’s primary caregivers.

Bye Inuka, you will be missed.

Photo: SPH Foundation

candicec@sph.com.sg

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