In Depth

RIP Inuka: Singapore’s ‘tropical polar bear’ dies aged 27

Bear was beloved by island nation - but many questioned ethics of his captivity

The world’s first “tropical polar bear” has died in Singapore at the age of 27.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which manages the Singapore Zoo in Mandai, announced that Inuka had been allowed to pass away under anesthesia on medical advice.

Inuka was Singapore’s first ever native polar bear, born in 1990 to a mother raised in captivity in Germany and a father captured in the wild in Canada.

His name, meaning ‘foreboding strength’ in Inuit, was chosen by a public contest, and at the age of three Inuka “was chosen as one of the city’s icons by its main broadsheet, the Straits Times, alongside the Singapore Sling cocktail”, Reuters reports.

For nearly three decades, he was a local celebrity, entertaining visitors with his playful nature, says the South China Morning Post.

“Singaporeans have known Inuka from the time he was a cub, and have seen him growing up and ageing,” said zookeeper Mohan Ponichamy.

“It has been a privilege and honour being his caregiver, but difficult as it may be, it would not have been fair to prolong his suffering.” 

Despite spending his life in a distinctly non-polar climate, Inuka lived two years longer than the average lifespan of a polar bear in captivity and around ten years longer than a bear in the wild.

Inuka, whose mother lived to the age of 35, “had been on a ‘seniors programme’ at the zoo for the past five years, to help elderly animals deal with the effects of ageing,” the South China Morning Post reports.

However, in recent years, he had suffered a myriad of worsening health problems, including arthritis, dental problems and ear infections”.

Although Inuka was considered a beloved national icon to many Singaporeans, some were uneasy about the bear’s unnatural habitat. 

“In 2004, when the fur on Inuka and his mother started turning green, questioning began over the ethics of keeping polar bears in the tropics,” says SBS. The tinge was attributed to algae growth caused by humdity.

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