SINGAPORE: Singapore's last polar bear, Inuka, has been put down on “humane grounds” after a second health examination in three weeks found that its health had not improved despite intensive treatments.
The 27-year-old polar bear was put into “deep sleep” under anaesthesia at around 7am on Wednesday (Apr 25) and was not revived, said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, deputy CEO and Chief Life Sciences Officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
Any form of treatment would have caused it more stress and prolonged its suffering, Dr Cheng added.
“Today’s medical examination revealed that the open wounds on his paws and abdomen had not significantly improved despite additional treatment over the last three weeks. These wounds, which were quite deep, would have caused pain and discomfort to Inuka, and would only be aggravated as his arthritis worsened,” WRS said in a statement.
“The vets had hoped that the treatment instituted since the last checkup would have resulted in more improvement, and as it was not the case, it was clear that Inuka’s health and welfare state was compromised and the responsible course of action was not to prolong Inuka’s suffering,” WRS added.
KEEPERS ENSURED INUKA WAS COMFORTABLE
Mr Mohan Ponichamy, deputy head keeper and one of Inuka's primary caregivers, said the keepers spent the entire night with Inuka, ensuring it was comfortable.
"In preparation of anaesthesia, he needed to be isolated. We spent almost the entire day with him (to) make sure he was calm. We hand-fed him with water. He was responsive and could still follow signals," Mr Mohan said.
"From his point of view, he was in deep sleep, surrounded by all his keepers who care deeply about him. Having been born and lived in Singapore for the past 27 years where a whole generation of Singaporeans have grown up with him, we bade him farewell. It is a very sad moment for us ... but I think we have done the right thing by him and he is no longer suffering," Dr Cheng added.
A private memorial service will be held on Thursday. An autopsy will be done to fully understand Inuka's condition, and the zoo said it may also preserve its body parts for educational purposes.
Inuka’s exhibit will be refurbished and redesigned to house sea lions, the zoo said. The changes will be made over the next few months.
QUALITY OF LIFE
At 27 years old, Inuka was about 70 in human years. It was put on the Zoo's geriatric health plan five years ago and monitored closely on a daily basis. Keepers also assessed him visually every week, the Zoo said.
When asked if the Zoo had considered letting Inuka die naturally, Dr Cheng said that it is not the Zoo's policy to do so.
"In the wild when animals who die naturally, it can be long and drawn out. It could be old or they ... might not be as fast as they used to be or as healthy as they used to be. If you’re an animal that has to hunt other animals to survive (and) you can’t do that anymore, you could go hungry, you could last for weeks and months before you die," Dr Cheng said.
"For animals under our care, we shall never allow that. We will always be looking after for them, taking care of them. So that means that we could actually try to treat the conditions over a period of time."
Treatment could go on for "months and years" and the keepers look out for quality of life of the animal at the same time.
"We have many indicators that allow us to assess if he is having a good life. When we look at all the indicators, the big ones are the health indicators, could we have treated the sore or the pads more? We could have, but in the end it’ll just be the treatment itself will cause him more stress and more discomfort. It would not necessarily allow him to heal back and will certainly be prolonging his suffering unnecessarily," Dr Cheng added.
The polar bear had been kept under close watch and away from its exhibit since Tuesday. It was found to be less active in recent weeks and preferred to rest than playing and interacting with its keepers.
Inuka was born in the Singapore Zoo in 1990 and was the first polar bear to be born in the tropics. It had lived beyond the average life expectancy of 15 to 18 years of polar bears in the wild and 25 years in captivity.
The zoo said in 2006 it will not bring in any more polar bears to Singapore – a decision that was reaffirmed last month and is in line with its focus on featuring tropical wildlife and threatened Southeast Asian species, WRS said.