The only Singapore-born polar bear is now in ‘declining health’ – here’s a look back at how Inuka captured hearts

Inuka peering at guests at his 26th birthday celebration in 2016.
Lianhe Zaobao

The only polar bear to have been born in the tropics could be put to sleep as early as the end of April, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said on Thursday (Apr 12).

Born at the Singapore Zoo to the zoo’s first polar bears Nanook and Sheba, Inuka turned 27 in December last year.

According to WRS, Inuka would be “well into his 70s” in human years, and has surpassed the 25-year average lifespan of polar bears under human care. Polar bears in the wild have a life expectancy of between 15-18 years.

WRS said in a statement that a health examination on Apr 3 revealed that the polar bear’s health “is declining markedly”.

A 2013 health examination being carried out by veterinarians from the Singapore Zoo when Inuka was 22 years old.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Although he is closely monitored by vets and keepers, old age has meant that Inuka’s activity levels are dipping.

Once known for splashing around in his pool, Inuka now prefers resting to interacting with keepers, and has reduced his swimming sessions significantly, WRS said.

Inuka was known to splash around and greet visitors from his pool.
The Straits Times

The statement added that Inuka is now “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”.

Inuka had already been suffering from arthritis, dental issues and occasional ear infections, which are being managed and treated.

But now, Inuka also exhibits a stiffer gait, particularly noticeable in his hind limbs, WRS said.

“This abnormal shuffling gait has resulted in abrasions on his paw pads. Additionally, age-related general muscle atrophy is clearly evident,” the organisation said.

As a result, his daily care has been intensified and he has been put on painkillers and antibiotics to further alleviate his symptoms.

“His keepers are closely monitoring his welfare, and his quality of life assessment is under constant review,” WRS said.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore Facebook page

A second health exam scheduled for later this month will decide if Inuka should continue on these treatments.

“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,” WRS said.

While daily polar bear interaction sessions have been suspended, visitors to the Singapore Zoo will still be able to spot the bear at the Frozen Tundra enclosure for now.

Sponsored by Singapore Press Holdings’ charity arm, SPH Foundation, Inuka could be the last polar bear to live in the tropical zoo.

In 2006, the zoo said it would not bring any more polar bears to Singapore following discussions with its Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee.

Here’s a look back at the life of Singapore’s very own polar bear Inuka.

Since 1978, there have been four polar bears at the Singapore Zoo, including Inuka, Nanook, Sheba, and another polar bear named Anana.

In this photo, mother bear Sheba swims with her cub Inuka, who is just under a year old. Sheba died on Nov 15, 2012, at the age of 35.

Singapore Zoo

Inuka celebrated his 10th birthday at the Singapore Zoo with two huge ice sculptures filled with fruits, vegetables and a salmon each.

The Straits Times

Inuka can often be seen lazing around outside of activity and feeding times in his enclosure.

Lianhe Zaobao

In 2016, the zoo celebrated Inuka’s 26th birthday with a five-day bash. 

The bear got to savour some of his favourite treats, including a birthday cake made of salmon, minced beef and peanut butter “icing”.

The Straits Times

By this time, the 2.5-metre-long and 505kg bear was already being put on long-term glucosamine and anti-inflammatory treatment for arthritis.

Lianhe Zaobao

In 2016,  WRS said Inuka consumed 11kg of food every day. His diet is made up of  meat, polar bear pellets, rice, cabbage, carrots, and fruits.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore Facebook page