Dead polar bear to be preserved

Dead polar bear to be preserved

Ng Kai Ling

Zoo to turn Sheba into a permanent exhibit for educational programmes

POPULAR Singapore Zoo attraction Sheba – a polar bear that died two weeks ago – will be preserved and displayed to fulfil an educational role.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which owns the zoo, told The Straits Times that it is working with a taxidermist to turn the female bear into a permanent exhibit.

The process will take about four months, said a spokesman.

Sheba will be displayed in the zoo’s auditorium and used in educational programmes such as Rolling With Pandas, in which visitors can learn about the eight species of bears in the world.

“While Sheba has left us, she will continue contributing to our work in educating the public and spreading the word on the importance of conservation,” added the spokesman.

Sheba arrived in Singapore from Cologne Zoo in Germany in 1978 as a 14-month-old. A mate, Nanook, was brought in from Canada’s Winnipeg Zoo and Sheba gave birth to a son – Inuka – in 1990.

The 35-year-old Sheba was put to sleep on Nov 15. WRS veterinarians had treated the polar bear from September for loss of strength in its hind limbs, but Sheba got worse and could not eat.

This is not the first time animals from the zoo have been preserved. Examples include a lioness and a king cheetah, which are displayed in the zoo’s auditorium.

Award-winning Singaporean taxidermist Ken Mar, who is currently working on preserving a lioness for the zoo, said modern taxidermists no longer stuff animals with sawdust or cotton wool.

He said the preferred method is to glue the animal’s skin onto a mannequin. Mannequins of various animals can be ordered from the United States, and come in different sizes and poses.

“The animal looks more real with this method. The muscle shape and tone come out better than when they are stuffed.”

While the mannequin helps give it a basic structure, the skill of the taxidermist is called upon in making the face resemble the original.

In Singapore, the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research has about 500,000 animal specimens, including insects, birds, primates and even a tiger.

Part of this collection will be featured in the upcoming Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore.

The museum’s project manager, Dr Tan Swee Hee, said that compared with a picture of an animal, a specimen has more educational value.

“It makes a lot of difference because it is three-dimensional. You get a sense of its height, length and depth, as if you are seeing the real thing,” he added.

Housewife Lynn Lee, 41, said animal specimens add realism to the zoo’s educational programmes.

“People will be able to get close to it and look at its features,” added the mother of two, who takes her children to the zoo about twice a year.

Accounts executive Doris Chew, 60, said preserving Sheba will allow future generations to come face to face with a polar bear.

“We may not have any more polar bears in the future. So I wouldn’t mind seeing her again as a specimen.”

WRS had said five years ago that there were no plans to import polar bears after animal rights group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) had raised concerns over living conditions here.

Yesterday, Acres founder and chief executive Louis Ng said there are no animal-welfare issues in preserving animals, as long as they are not killed specifically to be preserved.

He added: “We do see some educational value in having these specimens, and they can be an alternative to having live animals on display.”

kailing@sph.com.sg (c) 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

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