Singapore Zoo's polar bear Inuka may be put to sleep end-April due to poor health

(AFP file photo)
(AFP file photo)

Singapore Zoo’s polar bear Inuka, the last of his kind in Singapore, may be put to sleep at the end of April given his “markedly declining health”, said the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) on Thursday (12 April).

Inuka’s veterinary care team has given a “guarded prognosis” and are monitoring the 27-year-old polar bear – estimated to be in his 70s in human years – daily, following a health examination last Tuesday.

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

A second health examination will be scheduled later this month.

If results indicate that Inuka is not improving with 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”.

In the past three months, the polar bear’s activity levels have “dipped noticeably”, preferring rest to daily interaction sessions with his keepers.

“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,” added WRS.

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 – which has resulted in abrasions on his paw pads. His age-related general muscle atrophy is also “clearly evident”.

Apart from long-term glucosamine and anti-inflammatory treatment for his arthritis, veterinarians have boosted his daily care regime to include intensive treatment for his feet, and started him on specific painkillers and antibiotics to further alleviate his symptoms.

Daily polar bear interaction sessions have been suspended to allow Inuka to enjoy his time as
he pleases but fans can continue to visit him at Singapore Zoo’s Frozen Tundra.

Born on 26 December 1990 in Singapore Zoo, Inuka is the first and only polar bear born in the tropics.

At 27 years old, he has surpassed the 25-year average lifespan of polar bears under human care and is among the two per cent of the total zoo population to be placed under a special senior animal care programme. Male polar bears in the wild have a life expectancy of between 15-18 years.

Inuka, which means “silent stalker” in the Inuit language, is also one of four polar bears to have resided at the zoo to date, including his parents Nanook and Sheba, as well as Anana, a female polar bear caught in the wild.

His father Nanook and mother Sheba arrived at the zoo in 1978 from Winnipeg Zoo in Canada and Cologne Zoo in Germany, respectively.

Nanook passed away in 1995 at the age of 18 while Sheba died five years ago when she was 35. Anana arrived from Canada in 1979 and died in 1999.

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Inuka the polar bear turns 27, treated to 10kg cake at Singapore Zoo