Source: Wildlife Reserves Singapore Facebook page.

Inuka, Singapore’s beloved polar bear may have to be put to sleep due to declining health condition

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) in a statement revealed that Singapore Zoo’s beloved senior polar bear Inuka had undergone a health examination on 3 April 2018, and results show that his health is declining markedly.

Born on 26 December 1990 in Singapore Zoo, 27-year-old Inuka is the first polar bear born in the tropics, and the park’s most prominent senior resident.

Often dubbed the “best Christmas present” by his keepers, his year-end birthday celebration has been a tradition that many zoo goers look forward to. In human years, Inuka would be well into his 70s. At this age, Inuka has surpassed the 25-year average lifespan of polar bears under human care. Male polar bears in the wild have a life expectancy of between 15-18 years.

WRS stated that in the past three months, Inuka’s activity levels have dipped noticeably, and he now prefers resting to participating in daily interaction sessions with his keepers. It noted that the water-loving bear has reduced his swimming sessions significantly, and appears to be less interested in his daily enrichment activity involving a variety of devices such as traffic cones, boomer balls and ice blocks embedded with his favourite food.

"While his arthritis, dental issues and occasional ear infections are already being managed, Inuka now exhibits a stiffer gait, particularly noticeable in his hind limbs. This abnormal shuffling gait has resulted in abrasions on his paw pads. Additionally, age-related general muscle atrophy is clearly evident," it said.

According to the agency, already on long-term glucosamine and anti-inflammatory treatment for his arthritis, vets have upped his daily care regime to include intensive treatment for his feet, and started him on specific painkillers and antibiotics to further alleviate his symptoms. His veterinary care team has given a guarded prognosis and are monitoring Inuka on a daily basis. His keepers are closely monitoring his welfare, and his quality of life assessment is under constant review.

WRS said that a second health examination will be scheduled in late April to give further clarity on how he is faring. If results indicate that Inuka’s welfare is not improving with these intensive treatments, his care team may have to make the very difficult decision to not allow him to recover from anesthesia on humane and welfare grounds.

It then noted that while daily polar bear interaction sessions have been suspended to allow Inuka to enjoy his time as he pleases, fans can continue to visit him at Singapore Zoo’s Frozen Tundra.

WRS stated that Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) has supported Inuka’s upkeep since birth. SPH Foundation, the charity arm of SPH, took over the adoption from 2007.

Polar bears were brought to Singapore in 1978, and offer a glimpse into the arctic for zoo guests. Aside from Inuka, Singapore Zoo was once home to his parents Nanook and Sheba, and another polar bear Anana. Following discussions with its Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee (AWEC) in 2006, the Zoo announced that it will not bring any more polar bears to Singapore. This is in line with the Zoo’s stronger focus on featuring tropical wildlife and threatened Southeast Asian species in need of ex-situ management programmes.

Many members of the public shared the opinion that the polar bear does not belong to this tropical country in the first place and question the statement from the agency for the best to be put to sleep if his condition is deteriorating.

Dennis Khew wrote, "Time to let him go back to the arctic asap instead selfish people! Still squeezing for visitors' money till his last day?"

Qi Siang Ng wrote, "No more polar bears after this. It’s cruel to put an arctic animal in tropical heat."

Pang Hong wrote, "It's time to end all zoos around the world. It's prison for animals."

Alvin Kuo wrote, "Why need to put to sleep, can't let him to pass on naturally?"

Theng Wei Gan wrote, "Don't ever bring another polar bear to Singapore."

Eric Ang wrote, "Shouldn't had bought him into Singapore in the first place. Sad to look at him in the zoo every time I visit. His furs were dirty and brownish. He's also very lonely."

Tan FromSingapore wrote, "Inuka was born in Singapore, technically a Singaporean. I am appalled by this news that Inuka will put down when the time comes. Will ageing Singaporeans be put down in the same way?"

Terrie Tan wrote, "We should stop trying to keep and breed polar bears in Singapore. This has not worked. As far as I recall, all the polar bears have lived badly and suffered painful ends, I don't think we have the means to give them a quality life. Let other reserves or more suitable environments keep them."

Angeline Lee wrote, "Why put him to sleep? If he got to go, let him go naturally. Shouldn’t end his life just because his health is declining. Nobody have the rights to do it. Please let him go naturally if he ready got to leave. That’s his life! His fate."

Shi Huang Ti wrote, "Unbelievable! They are using this news as a marketing tool to attract more visitors to make more money. How disgusting! This is animal cruelty. Should shut down the zoo instead of exploiting for financial gains..release all the animal into the wild."

Alysha Chandra wrote, "From the ACRES website: Doesn't the fact that captive polar bears sometimes live a long time mean that the living conditions must be good? Animals (including humans) can survive for many years in wholly substandard living conditions. This does not mean that they experience good welfare or have a good quality of life. Bears are known to be particularly resilient animals, surviving in even the most appalling circumstances. For example, bears on bear farms who are cruelly farmed for their bile, kept in tiny cages and repeatedly stabbed into their gall bladders, can live for over 20 years! Nobody can argue that the conditions endured by bears on bear farms are anything but horrific, yet many bears survive them for many years."

Elaine Tan wrote, "Saw the bear at the Zoo recently. So poor thing under the heat and hot weather. Yes!! Please, stop bringing polar bear to tropical country. The bear is suffering!"

Anna Alias wrote, "He's old - not dying from cancer. Please let him go naturally. Make him comfortable and take care of him in his last days till his time comes, just as how he has entertained your visitors all his life. What sort of organization are you to put him down when he has faithfully served the zoo and earned money for you?"

Rosy Corfitzen wrote, "I love going to the zoo but every time I pass to Inuka, I feel sad. Why you have to be here? You don't deserve to be here. It's a cruel thing to do for all this arctic animal to be in warm and humid country yes we can give all they needed like AC and cold water chiller but not the same if they can't live outside world at least let them be in a cold country zoo not here that is selfish and cruel. Sad."

Kandi Sofia wrote, "In another world, maybe Inuka can be set free and sent to a sanctuary for polar bears. I visited Inuka in Singapore Zoo when he was still a young polar bear. Most amazing creature. I agree, no more polar animals in the tropic."