SINGAPORE: A birthday cake made from agar-agar topped with a salmon head made the perfect treat for Singapore Zoo’s resident polar bear Inuka, which celebrated its 27th birthday on Tuesday (Dec 26).
The bear, which is in its 70s in human years, was presented with the novel cake to the delight of around 400 visitors.
It is the first time the bear has had a cake made from agar-agar, which is derived from seaweed and is commonly found in Asian desserts. Previous birthday cakes comprised of an ice base and various toppings.
This year's cake was made from agar-agar to make it easier on Inuka's teeth, said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, deputy CEO and chief life sciences officer for Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
"For his birthday cake we have to make it very special, taking into account he’s already on a senior diet, made from low sugar and very high quality protein and fat, and that is in the salmon. Salmon also happens to be one of his favourite (foods)," said Dr Cheng.
The locally born polar bear has surpassed the 25-year average lifespan of a typical polar bear under human care.
He is currently on a senior animal care programme, which helps to manage his arthritis. This includes weekly health checks, special diets and close observations, as well as an assessment carried out daily to determine Inuka's quality of life.
The bear currently weighs 513kg and measures 2.5m from nose to tail.
Dr Cheng said that Inuka will be the last polar bear to be kept in the Singapore Zoo for a "long, long time”.
"Our policy right now is to concentrate on animals that we can create an environment that is as close to an environment where they're found naturally."
"So to bring another polar bear we need to create an artificial environment … and the carbon footprint of creating such an environment for him in Singapore will be very, very high and it would not be in line with the conservation messages that we want to communicate," he added.
The decision not to bring in more polar bears in the future was made a decade ago, after discussions with the zoo's welfare ethics committee and external consultants.
But Inuka's condition remains stable and his carers are optimistic.
"We’re monitoring his quality of life very closely, and with the way he tackled his birthday cake just now, he has a very hearty appetite and a good will to go on living," Dr Cheng said.