RIP, Inuka: The world’s first polar bear born in the tropics

RIP, Inuka: The world’s first polar bear born in the tropics

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Inuka in its pool. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Singapore Zoo's late resident polar bear Inuka was an "inquisitive soul" and a "cheeky fellow", Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said on Wednesday (Apr 25).

The polar bear was put down "on humane grounds" on Wednesday morning, said WRS, after a second health examination in three weeks showed his welfare had been "seriously compromised" and would only "deteriorate further".

The 27-year-old’s health had been “declining markedly”, with Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) – which runs the zoo – saying earlier in the month that vets might have to make the “very difficult decision” to put it down if its health was not shown to be improving.

In human years, Inuka lived well into his 70s – and well past the 25-year average lifespan of polar bears under human care, according to WRS. Wild male polar bears have a life expectancy of between 15 and 18 years.

Here are some facts about the late polar bear:

1. First polar bear to be born in the tropics

Welcomed into the world on Boxing Day, 1990, Inuka was the first polar bear to be born in the tropics.

His father Nanook and mother Sheba arrived at the Singapore Zoo from Canada and Germany respectively in 1978. Inuka weighed just 350g at birth – but grew to weigh more than 500kg.

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Inuka dives down in its pool on Apr 23, 2018, two days before it was put down. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

2. Its name means “silent stalker” in Inuit

Inuka’s name means “silent stalker” in Inuit, and was chosen in a national naming contest.

More than 10,000 entries were received, including names like Arctos and Shardik, according to reports.

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One of Inuka's favourite games was peek-a-boo. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

3. Liked to play peek-a-boo

Described by WRS as “young at heart”, Inuka was a mischievous bear that liked to invent his own games from the toys provided by its keepers, according to WRS.

His favourite game was peek-a-boo – where the bear would “stalk” and surprise guests by popping up right in front of their faces when they came close to the glass front of his enclosure.

He was also a "cheeky fellow" who would wait until its keepers were not watching and then spit out his medication, said WRS. He would also put its toothbrush out of the keepers' reach and move it further every time they wanted to retrieve it.

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In human years, Inuka lived well into its 70s – and well past the 25-year average lifespan of polar bears under human care. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

4. It went green from time to time

Polar bears are generally known for their “white” fur – though the bears’ coats actually have no white pigment, but are hollow, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

In Inuka’s case, microscopic algae from his pool would sometimes enter these hollow hair shafts, tingeing his fur green.

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Microscopic algae would sometimes enter Inuka's hollow hair shafts, tingeing its fur green. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

5. Loved “fruitsicles” and salmon

Inuka’s daily menu consisted of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, with the bear especially enjoying salmon. It also loved tossing and flipping “fruitsicles” – large blocks of ice with frozen fruit inside.

His year-end birthday celebrations also saw the bear treated to “birthday cakes” made out of ice and various toppings. Last year’s cake featured agar-agar - an Asian jelly desert - for the first time, while previous celebrations had seen cakes with salmon, minced beef and even peanut butter.

However Inuka was "fussy about food" at times, according to WRS. When his favourite meat was presented to him along with others he did not like as much, he would only focus on the meat he liked.

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Singapore Zoo polar bear Inuka celebrates its 27th birthday with an agar-agar salmon cake. (Photo: Wildlife Reserves Singapore)

6. It loved massages and dips in the pool

Inuka loved taking dips in the pool, and enjoying "hydro massages" under the waterfall, according to WRS.

On hot days, when keepers encouraged him to go into the pool - Inuka would tap with his left forepaw to tell them to throw food down to him on the cliff, and not the water.

Inuka’s passing marks the last of the polar bears in Singapore. The zoo had announced in 2006 that it would not bring any more polar bears into Singapore, following discussions with its animal welfare and ethics committee.

Source: CNA/nc