Inuka was born in the Singapore Zoo and is the first polar bear to be born in the tropics. This was the result of an extensive breeding programme run by the zoo. There have been four polar bears at Singapore Zoo altogether—Nanook, Sheba and their offspring Inuka, as well as another female, Anana.
Nanook and Sheba arrived at the Singapore Zoo in 1978, from Winnipeg Zoo in Canada and Cologne Zoo in Germany respectively. Nanook was 11 months old and was captured in the wild, while Sheba was 14 months old and born in captivity. To ease them in, they arrived in the wee hours of the morning when the temperature was coolest. Like most zoo animals, one of each sex was brought in for mating and conservation purposes. Anana, a female polar bear caught in the wild, arrived from Canada in 1979. She died in 1999.
On 26 December 1990, Sheba gave birth to a 350-gram male cub. The cub was named Inuka, chosen from amongst 390 names suggested in a nationwide naming contest. More than 10,000 entries were received, including names like Arctos and Shardik.
In 1993, The Straits Times named Inuka as one of "28 people and things to call our own", alongside national swimmer Joscelin Yeo, the Vanda Miss Joaquim and the Singapore Sling. Inuka has been adopted by the foundation arm of SPH since birth, with the SPH co-organising events together such as his birthday parties. The foundation contributes about S$95,000 annually to the Wildlife Conservation Fund, which covers the adoption of Inuka and other zoo sponsorships.
In 2000, more than 300 guests had free cake at Inuka's 10th birthday bash, where limited Inuka notebooks were also given away. In 2001, Inuka was named by the Singapore Zoo as a possible replacement for the ageing orangutan Ah Meng as the zoo's mascot, among other candidates like elephant Sang Raja and orangutan Hong Bao. However, nothing materialised.
In 2004, Inuka and his mother had algae growing on their hair shafts and visitors thought that the zoo actually painted them green. The zoo said that the algae was harmless and singled out the hot, humid climate as the cause. To remove the algae, the zoo first sprayed Sheba with hydrogen peroxide and later sprayed Inuka.
That same year in 2004, controversies started over the polar bear enclosure at the zoo and Inuka and Sheba's behaviour. The enclosure was a mere size of 391 m² compared to its huge Arctic habitat which can spread an area of over 80,000 km².
The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) discussed with the zoo a proposal to move Inuka to a temperate country zoo. The society also claimed that Sheba and he were showing signs of behavioural and physical distress such as signs of heat stress, high levels of inactivity, high levels of abnormal stereotypical behaviour, and performing unusual behaviours such as waving and ringing a bell at feeding shows. Acres claimed that the pool's temperature was at 17°C much higher than the water conditions in the Arctic. Acres asked the zoo again to improve his enclosure.
The Singapore Zoo said the bears were kept in good conditions citing that Inuka was born in the tropics. It will not import anymore Arctic animals as it is planning to become a rainforest themed zoo. The zoo also spent S$200,000 upgrading the polar bears' facilities, installing another air-conditioner in the den and adding misting fans and netted shades over the enclosure to keep it at 22°C.
Sheba died on 15 November 2012 at the age of 35 and had been under treatment since September 2012 for loss of strength in her hind limbs, but her condition worsened and had to be put down after a close evaluation showed that her prognosis was poor.
The Singapore Zoo has contacted the Polar Bear International Studbook keeper based in Rostock Zoo in Germany to have Inuka included in the list of bears available for transfer as part of an "animal exchange programme", when his mother, Sheba, dies. Inuka would most likely end up in a zoo in Europe.
The zoo decided to focus on polar bears in 2006 as it could be their final year in Singapore. The SPH Foundation will sponsor Inuka's upkeep until he is transferred. Inuka's 16th birthday party in 2006 saw the attendance of more than fifty guests, and included an ice carving as well as a birthday cake made of ice filled with apples and fish, topped with sixteen carrot sticks representing candles.
In May 2007, the Singapore Zoo announced that Inuka will stay at the zoo even after Sheba dies, contrary to the earlier decision to send him to a temperate-country zoo when that happens. The decision was made on the recommendation of the zoo's Animal Welfare and Ethics Committee. However, there were no plans to import any more polar bears. Meanwhile, the zoo is looking into improving the facilities, including providing better water quality and a soft area for them to walk on.
According to the recent press reports in Aug 2010, "The bears will be the highlight of the Frozen Tundra exhibit in the $180 million River Safari theme park, which is due to open in 2012 on 12ha of land between the zoo and the Night Safari." This is contrary to the earlier claims by the zoo to focus more on Tropical rainforest animals, suitable for the weather conditions in Singapore. The local animal welfare organisation congratulated the zoo for building a bigger and climate-controlled enclosure for the bears, however criticised that this is contradictory to the zoo's message with regard to fighting global warming. It said, "On the one hand, the zoo is creating awareness about the need to cut our carbon emissions to save the polar bear's habitat. But on the other, a large climate-controlled enclosure for the polar bears, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, will undoubtedly contribute to global warming and to the demise of wild polar bears."
In 2013, the WRS announced that there will be a new exhibit called "Frozen Tundra" in the Singapore Zoo, contrary with to the last announcement about River Safari's huge exhibit. There are some new species in the new exhibit, such as wolverines and raccoon dogs which came to the Frozen Tundra exhibit in June 2013.
- Chiew, Hilary (3 October 2006). "Too warm for polar bears". The Star.
- "Polar Bear Inuka Turns 10!". Singapore Press Holdings. Archived from the original on 1 October 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2006.
- Teo Cheng Wee, "Parting will be such sweet sorrow", The Sunday Times, 31 December 2006
- "Polar bears turn green in Singapore". BBC. 24 February 2004.
- "Polar Bears". Animal Concerns Research and Education Society. Retrieved 27 December 2006.
- "Singapore Zoo's polar bear Sheba dies at age 35". Channel News Asia. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
- "No More Polar Bears for Tropical Singapore Zoo". Planet Ark. 8 September 2006.
- The Straits Times, Inuka turns sweet 16, 27 December 2006
- Mak Mun San, "Inuka the polar bear to stay on in sunny Singapore", The Straits Times, 3 May 2007
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