SINGAPORE: Staff of the Singapore Zoo gathered to say their goodbyes to Inuka the polar bear in a private memorial on Thursday (Apr 26).
About 400 employees, wearing shades of white and blue, were present at the amphitheatre facing Inuka’s now empty enclosure to reminisce and celebrate his long life.
The 27-year-old male polar bear was put down "on humane grounds" on Wednesday morning, after a second health examination in three weeks showed his welfare had been "seriously compromised" and would only "deteriorate further", said Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which manages the zoo.
There was barely a dry eye in the amphitheatre as deputy head keeper and one of Inuka’s primary caregivers Mohan Ponichamy talked at length about the polar bear’s playful nature and antics. Many keepers and staff had their heads bowed and were seen wiping away tears.
Behind him, a bouquet of white and purple orchids had been placed on the rock Inuka used to spend much of his time on.
"For the first time, I walked into the frozen tundra, Inuka was not … he was not there," said Mr Ponichamy who had been looking after the polar bear for three years.
"We didn’t walk into his den this morning to see … a cheery Inuka greeting us. The space is empty now, just like the exhibit behind me," he added, his words punctuated with pauses as he was overwhelmed by emotion.
“For the past 27 years, he has brought not just smiles to our keepers and Singapore Zoo staff. He also brought lots of smiles to the millions of visitors from all over the world. And especially Singaporeans,” Mr Ponichamy continued.
“Our Inuka may be an old bear, but he was a good boy … our good boy.”
In his speech, CEO of WRS Mike Barclay thanked Inuka's caregivers for their dedication as well as the public for their support.
"As sad as we all are, let us thank Inuka for bringing us joy and excitement over 27 years. He will live on in our pictures and in our memories, we will always have him in our hearts," he added.
The ceremony culminated in Inuka’s keepers placing white roses on photos of the polar portraying him through the years.
One keeper was seen caressing a photo of Inuka and crying as he said his goodbyes. The keeper, who declined to be named, said he had spent the last 14 months looking after the polar bear.
Attendees of the event later penned notes on paw-shaped stickers and placed them on a memorial wall that was specially made for the event.
Members of the public who wish to offer tributes to Inuka can pen their well wishes on the memorial wall.
The memorial will be followed by an autopsy to fully understand Inuka's condition. WRS also said that his body parts may be preserved for educational purposes.