Saturday, 28 April 2018

"Bye polar" disorder

Singapore is suffering from "bye, polar" disorder.

Inuka, the last polar bear in Singapore's zoo, was euthanised earlier this week when vets ascertain that he was not responding to treatment, and his health was worsening. He was 27 (born Dec 26, 1990).

The zoo held a "farewell" for Inuka.

And his keepers shared memories of Inuka
[Inuka] knew the waterfall was powered by a water inlet within the pool. Initially, it used its paw to block the inlet, but it was unable to stop the water flow completely. So, it used its toy – a large and flat red disc – instead.
Inuka knew exactly what it was doing, because it would watch the waterfall as it performed its trick. “He knew how it worked … he would spend the entire day trying to stop it,"
But age caught up with Inuka:
As Inuka’s hind legs grew weaker in its later years, its ability to stand on land was compromised. But it continued do so in the three metre-deep pool...
... Inuka would “not feel its pain or its weight in the water”...  it would play and wrestle with its toys, getting so excited that it would “twist and turn” many times.
But this exertion often proved “too much for its body”, and over the next few days, Inuka would become either unresponsive or did not want to move.
As age catches up with me as well, I can identify with that feeling of pushing my body too far.

Polar bears in the wild live to 15 to 18 years, when they are too old to hunt successfully.

At 27, Inuka had lived well passed the age of bears in the wild, and his physical condition meant that he would not survive in the wild.

Response to some Common Unthinking Comments (CUC).

One comment or question was, why can't we just let him die "naturally"?

Here's a response from FaceBook:
Well, we can release him into the Arctic where in the best case scenario, he will starve to death because he is unable to hunt. Is that natural enough? Or he might injure himself in the wilds because of his poor physical shape, and suffer as the wounds get worse, and maybe infected, then die from the infection. Is that natural enough?

Or we can leave him in his enclosure, and feed him while his physical state gets worse, his injuries don't heal, and maybe get infected, and his suffering gets worse each day. Before he eventually succumb to the pain and deterioration, and die. Is that natural enough?

The doctors have ascertained that he is not responding to treatment for his wounds and they are in fact getting worse, and it is causing him more pain. And this explains his inactivity. His quality of life is deteriorating. He is suffering. But we should let him suffer because that is... natural?

Or we do the humane thing, recognise that Inuka will not "get well soon", and that his conditions will only get worse, and his suffering will only get worse, and there are no good days (or more bad days than good days) left for him, and the rest of his unnaturally long life will be filled more with pain than with quality, and spare Inuka meaningless and pointless pain?

Oh wait. That's not "natural".


A second question is, why keep Inuka in a zoo? We should let him return to the wilds. A short free life is better than a long comfortable captivity.  

This was a response to a thoughtless comment about "a short, free life is better than a long life in prison" by an idealistic young woman whose name has been redacted to protect her... reputation.
Right. So when should we have released Inuka into the arctic wilds?The best time would be when he's about 4 years old. But he needs another polar bear to teach him to hunt, and survive. Sheba (his mother) was getting on in years and the chances of her survival was not good. If she dies, Inuka would also likely die because he would not be prepared to face living in the wild.

But dying just over 4 years of age is great because hey! at least he is free in the wilds. Quality Life! Or rather quality death!

Okay, maybe they can release him into the wilds when he is older. Say 8 years old. Assuming there is some programme to train polar bears born in captivity to survive in the wild. I do not believe there are any, but hey! you can prove me wrong by finding one and putting in the link when you reply!

Except by then Sheba is very old and is happy being with Inuka. And Inuka is happy being with Sheba. But hey, what do THEY know about happiness. THEY are only stupid polar bears, not aware of the joy of freedom like [writer's name] is! Obviously Inuka would be happiest in the wild, with freedom! Separated from his mother! And it is in Sheba's best interests to die alone and lonely, separated from her child, in the zoo...

UNLESS... we also send the geriatric Sheba out into the wilds as well! Where she can DIE FREE! And Inuka can mourn her death!

Well, Sheba eventually passed on. Inuka was finally FREE to leave the zoo!

...At the ripe old age (for a polar bear) of 12. By then inuka has spent all his 12 years of his life in a zoo. The zoo is all he knows. In the arctic, he might catch a cold! But the humane thing and the freedom thing and the quality thing is to toss Inuka out into the wilds to fend for himself. Alone.

So, at the moment when he has lost his mother, the one constant figure in all his life, we think the most humane thing is to turn him out alone into the wilds to fend for himself?

Of course not! The zoo is run by competent people! Not by idealists like [writer's name]!

They kept Inuka in the zoo. Until he was too old (more than 15 years old) to release. He would have had a glorious death in the wild. A quality death.

Instead of living 12 years more with good care from the zoo.

Think about it: in the wilds, polar bears live 15 - 18 years.

Then they die.

In captivity, they live to 25 or more.

What does that say about the quality of their care in captivity?

There are animals that have shorter lives in captivity regardless of the care or the condition of their captivity. I think there is evidence that these animals do not thrive in captivity, or their quality of life in captivity is lower.

Of course, you could still be correct: Live fast. Die young. Leave a good looking corpse.

Or in the wilds, it is live fast, die young, leave your corpse for scavengers to eat.
The point is Inuka was born in captivity, and "unplanned". And at all times, the welfare of Inuka AND Sheba his mother were considered TOGETHER.

But I like your FOCUSED, MONO-FACTORIAL decision making. It is so nice to know that young people are still idealistic.
 Note that the above response is not absolutely correct. 

"Sheba... to teach Inuka how to hunt in the wild". Sheba was born in captivity and there is no evidence that she would be able to hunt in the wild or teach Inuka how to hunt. She had Inuka when she was 12, and by the time Inuka was old enough to learn to fend for himself (say 3 years old), she would be 15 near the end of her life in the wild, but potentially, still viable... if she knew how to hunt in the first place. In the wilds, the mother would chase away the cubs when they were about 2.5 years old. Or younger. So maybe when Inuka was a few months old, both mother and cub should have been released, but as Sheba was born and raised in captivity, she might have trouble surviving in the wilds let alone teach Inuka to hunt/survive.

"Sheba passed away when Inuka was 12" - Incorrect. Sheba died (also euthanised) in 2012. By then Inuka was 22. Sheba was 35. But the larger point was that when Inuka was free to be transferred or released into the wild, he was too old (22) to be released.

"Inuka was... unplanned". Not sure if he was unplanned, but Sheba was 13+ years old when she had Inuka. She was part of a breeding programme... since 1978. Well, she came to the zoo in 1978 at the age of 1+. They reach sexual maturity at about age 4 for females and age 6 for males. So active breeding could have began in the mid 80s when Nanook (Inuka's father) reached sexual maturity. So it had been 5 years or so before Nanook and Sheba figured out what goes where and how. Dunno about unplanned, but a surprise for sure.

At some later point the discussion turned to other... options for Inuka. This was from a report in 2006:
For the long term, ACRES recommends relocating the bears since they cannot be released to the wild. However, Sheba is old and may not survive the relocation journey.
Acres suggests that once Sheba passes away, Inuka be relocated to a facility with more appropriate climate like in Canada, to give it a better quality of life. It also urges the zoo to end importation of Arctic animals.
Note that ACRES also concluded in 2006, when Inuka was 16 yrs old, that neither Sheba nor Inuka could be released to the wild. But it is always nice to know that idealists would not let expert opinion get in the way of their amateur opinions.

ACRES also reported:
Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) found, in its undercover work between September and December last year, mother bear, Sheba and her male offspring Inuka, exhibiting signs of severe heat stress. Both bears constantly pant, in efforts to cool down.
The response:
... the zoo stated it was looking into improving the facilities, including providing better water quality and a soft area for them to walk on.
... ACRES congratulated the zoo for building a bigger and climate-controlled enclosure for the bears...
So Inuka got a larger, cooler enclosure, and could even play with his environment (stopping the waterfall), and enjoy his "control" over his environment.

Another question or comment from idiots was along the lines of Inuka was euthanised because it was cheaper to do so/he had no more monetary value for the zoo.

That is just a bald-face assertion with no facts to back it up other than the cynicism of the lying idiots who assert it.

So I shall not bother to rebut such factless and feckless accusations. Inuka's empty enclosure stands testimony to the truth. But the feckless idiots won't be able to see the truth.

Instead, here are some of my thoughts on Inuka and polar bears in zoos, and zoos in the tropics.

1) Inuka was a product of a breeding programme in a less enlightened time, perhaps - when the success of a zoo was evaluated based on the success of its breeding programme. In the years since then, we have become more enlightened, and realise that we should preserve habitats and nature, and not try to master nature. So no more breeding programmes.

2) But wait! With arctic ice melting, and the polar bear population in decline, maybe this is a time to bring back the polar bear breeding programme? Nope. That is a myth. At least according to Polar Bear Science. According to that site, polar bear population is NOT declining. No matter how many pathetic photos of skinny polar bears on ice floes you have seen.

3) Quality of life in a zoo and in nature. Idealists tend to project. So they imagine that they would like to be FREE. And that animals would also want to be free. And that they would prefer the freedom to hunt, to be independent, and to overcome challenges. Except that "freedom" is a rather nebulous concept. Would animals prefer to be free? That is too general and too presumptuous a question. Moreover, given the fact that both Sheba and Inuka were born in captivity, they would need to be "rehabilitated" to survive the wild.

4) Intelligent animals may "benefit" from interaction with humans. This is somewhat speculative. But primates that have been interacting with humans (e.g. sign language) show higher level cognition. Whether this is the subjective assessment of the human handlers, or objectively true is hard to say. Certainly the handlers would tend to give more meaning to interactions or anthropomorphise their charges. You can see it in the eulogies for Inuka. But what can objectively be seen is that Inuka used a tool (the red disc toy) to achieve his objective (stopping the waterfall). That is pretty complex thinking, planning, and execution.

5) The longer life is captivity may be unnatural, but it's not (necessarily) inhumane. Polar bears at 15 to 18 in the wilds would die off because they can no longer hunt, compete, or survive. In captivity, where food is readily available, and there are no threats, they can live on. And have a meaningful old age.  Inuka was playful and (seemed to) enjoy his life. The only life he has ever known.

6) In the wilds, the mother would chase off the cubs when they are about 2.5 years old. Because of competition for food. Because of survival. In captivity, Sheba and Inuka stayed together until Sheba passed away at the age of 35. Inuka was 22 at the time. Well past the age that polar bears in the wild would have died. But because he was born in captivity, he got to spent 22 years with his mother. Stifling? Unnatural? Unhealthy?

Who is to say that if polar bears in the wild did not have to compete and struggle to survive, they might not choose to have the same enduring relationships? Maybe nature red in tooth and claw and lives that are nasty, brutish, and short are natural because of scarcity and competition, but are not what the animals would deliberately select for themselves if they had a choice?

My point is that perhaps because he was spared the necessity to pursue survival, Inuka was better able to have a life that is more fulfilling than nasty, brutish, and short.

7) Human - animal interactions are not simply one way. If the animals are affected by their interactions with humans, the humans are also affected. It is not possible to listen to those who cared for Inuka and think that they were just doing their job. There is love, and respect at least on the humans' part. Thus to believe that Inuka was simply allowed to die because he had no economic value left can only be conceived by a heartless mercenary projecting his (or her) own "reality".

In this enlightened age, we know (or should know) better than to try to anthropomorphise animals. But where mistakes were made in less enlightened times, it is our responsibility to do the best we can to ameliorate those mistakes. Trying to start a polar bear breeding programme in the tropics was something that could only have been envisage in less enlightened times. But having a polar bear cub born in the tropics leaves us with the responsibility that we owe it the best life we can offer.

Inuka was our responsibility and we discharged our responsibility honourably and in good faith. And now we know better.

But we are also better for the life we gave Inuka, and the life he shared with us.

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