Inuka’s Keeper Shares That The Polar Bear Was “Very Kaypoh” And Was An Endearing Singaporean

Inuka’s empty tank. A crowded room, with filled seats and broken hearts.

A sombre backdrop in a moving memorial held for our beloved polar bear of the tropics, who passed away peacefully on Wednesday (25 Apr).

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Deputy Head Keeper Mohan Ponichamy delivered a heartfelt eulogy, sharing intimate moments with Inuka, and glimpses into his true nature behind the glass.

You can view the full memorial on Thursday (26 Apr) here. Mr Ponichamy’s eulogy begins at the 11-min mark. We summarise it after the jump.

Inuka brought smiles to millions around the world

Standing in front of Inuka’s now empty tank, Mr Ponichamy’s tribute to Inuka began poignantly, as he said,

Welcome to the Singapore Zoo, and to the Frozen Tundra. The home of our polar bear Inuka. Now these were the opening lines of our daily interactions with Inuka that was conducted right here at the grandstand.

According to him, Inuka’s eventful life for the past 27 years – brought smiles to his keepers, and millions of park visitors from all over the world.

Together, we watched Inuka grow from a “350g cub to a 524kg bear”, finally standing at an impressive height of 3.2 metres.

Image courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore

His team had been conducting routine interactions with Inuka for years.

Only to have the cycle broken, along with all their hearts, for the first time today in years.

A lonely walk through an empty den

Mr Ponichamy described his lonely walk through the exhibit today,

For the first time, I walked through the Frozen Tundra…Inuka was gone. He was not there.

And the haunting absence of a fond morning greeting from the friendly bear,

This morning I did not see a cheery Inuka greeting us. Every morning he would greet us. He’d be right there. The space is empty now, just like the exhibit behind us.

The keeper had taken care of Inuka for the past three years, interacting with him on a daily basis.

And every morning when they entered his den, they’d find Inuka waiting patiently for them.

Simply because he knew they would come.

Towering over the water

Calling Inuka “sharp” despite his age, they would assess his condition every morning by giving him hand signals.

The senior polar bear would perform the corresponding actions on the mark beautifully.

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Mr Ponichamy demonstrated the hand signal for Inuka to ‘open his mouth’ and to ‘lie down’ to those in attendance.

And described how Inuka – in his later years – began losing strength in his hind legs, and stopped standing as often.

Image courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore

That didn’t mean Inuka never stood at all.

He spoke admiringly of Inuka’s persevering nature,

The only time he was very comfortable standing, was when he was in the water.

The pool was 3 metres deep, but he would stand in the pool every single day, towering above the water during his interactions.

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Our mischievous good boy

Mr Ponichamy also shared a hilarious tale about Inuka’s mischievous antics, saying,

He is a good boy. Our good boy. But not without any mischief.

He’s apparently told the same story to many visitors at the Singapore Zoo.

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Inviting everyone to look at the waterfall behind him, the keeper described it as one of Inuka’s favourite past-times.

Stopping the waterfall, that is.

The first time Inuka discovered the water inlet, he used his paw to block the water.

But Inuka soon realised that the gaps between his digits would let the water through. He quickly found a solution by picking up a red circular toy to block the waterfall instead.

At this point, his keeper thanked four water engineers for accommodating Inuka’s mischievous pranks.

Apparently, when the water inlet was stopped, the pump would overheat, resulting in many complaints.

Of course, this never stopped them from letting Inuka do what he loved.

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They came to a compromise instead, by drilling holes in Inuka’s toy, so the water could flow through and Inuka could still have his fun.

The heartbreaking beginning of the end

Among Inuka’s other favourite toys, were traffic cones and rubbish bins.

He would typically be so excited for his toys that he’d twist and turn in the water.

Image courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Eventually, this became too much for his body.

Inuka’s keeper related the heartbreaking nature of his job — watching life gradually drain from Inuka in the latter part of his life.

However, he was thankful that Inuka had already exceeded a polar bear’s natural lifespan, as he lived till the ripe old age of 27 years.

Inuka’s winning personality

Of all the animals in the Frozen Tundra exhibit, Inuka was undoubtedly the most famous due to his winning personality.

Mr Ponichamy spoke fondly of Inuka’s inquisitiveness, saying,

He’s just like all Singaporeans, we are very kaypoh.

When suppliers came into his den to stack up his bed with straw, the lights in the driver control area would be turned off.

Image courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore

As the lights in the stall remained on, Inuka would usually be on the other end.

Inuka’s keeper quipped,

A minute later, you can sense that someone’s watching you. And when you turn around, he’s there. He won’t leave until everyone leaves the area. Very kaypoh.

It’s tough to say goodbye

Everyone at the Singapore Zoo was definitely feeling an immense sense of loss with Inuka’s passing.

Mr Ponichamy relayed his sadness too, saying,

It’s sad to say goodbye to Inuka. For the last few days, I tried to be strong for Inuka. Be strong for my team.

He also had to make the tough decision to let Inuka go and end his suffering.

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While overcome with emotion, the keeper spoke hesitantly,

I love Inuka. We all love him. And we want to do what’s best for him. It’s painful for us, but in the end all the pain is in him, he feels all the pain. He’s in a better place. Inuka will always have a place in our hearts. We’ll never forget him.

A Singaporean, through and through

Mr Ponichamy thanked all of Inuka’s past and present vets by name, for replying even on their off-days.

Image courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore

He praised them for going above and beyond, because they all wanted what’s best for Inuka.

On behalf of all the keepers, he then expressed his gratitude to Singapore, for loving our tropical bear.

Finally, he shared how he always chose to answer guests who asked him “Where’s the polar bear?”, saying,

Most of the time, I’ll be like where is the polar bear? I don’t see a polar bear. I see a tropical bear. I see a Singaporean.

An incredible life well-lived

Inuka’s passing has hollowed out an indelible part in all of our hearts.

But regardless of whether you feel anger or sadness towards Inuka’s death, there’s a common thread that links us all.

Our love for Inuka.

For the lives he’s touched, and the incredible life he lived right here in sunny Singapore.

Image courtesy of Wildlife Reserves Singapore

We hope there’s plenty of agar-agar and ice kachang where you’re headed.

Just remember that you’ll be dearly missed, as you’ve always been one of us.

Featured image from Wildlife Reserves Singapore.