Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Elderly penguins' new lease of life after world-first cataract surgery

Geriatric penguins’ new lease of life is clear to see after birds receive ground-breaking cataract surgery

  •  Six senior birds had the surgery two months ago and have made a full recovery
  • Includes three King penguins aged over 20 and three old Humboldt penguins 

Elderly penguins suffering with cataracts have undergone successful surgery and received new custom-made lenses at a Singapore wildlife sanctuary, in what has been hailed as ‘a milestone in veterinary medicine.’

Six geriatric birds, cared for by the Mandai Wildlife Group, had the ground-breaking surgery two months ago and have since made a full recovery.

They include three King penguins aged 20 and older, who had their lenses replaced with artificial intraocular lens implants, believed to be a world-first procedure on penguins.

Meanwhile three Humboldt penguins also had surgery to help them enhance their sight and improve their quality of life.

Incredible behind-the-scenes photos show the birds’ surgeries, which saw the removal of their cloudy lenses.

After surgery: Holly, the 17-year-old Humboldt Penguin, post-surgery. A marked improvement can be seen in her left eye, and she now has a new lease of life since her cataract was removed

Before surgery: Holly’s cataract was evident to keepers from the cloudiness in her left eye

Common among humans and animals alike, cataracts cause cloudy areas in the eye that hinder sight and are common with old age.

‘The success of these surgeries marks a milestone in veterinary medicine’, said Dr Gladys Boo, Veterinary Ophthalmologist from The Eye Specialist for Animals. 

‘While intraocular lens implants are common for humans and some domestic mammals, it is likely the first-time they have been successfully used on penguins’ 

‘As a larger species, the King Penguins have eyes large and stable enough to hold the custom lenses in place, so we decided to pursue this world-first procedure to further improve their vision above removing the cataract.’

The delicate procedure is particularly difficult to perform on penguins due to their third eyelid, Dr Boo said.

Designed to protect their eyes underwater, this layer tends to close during surgery. 

The group of birds were diagnosed with cataracts following a check-up on their colony in August 2022. 

Dr Ellen Rasidi, a veterinarian at the Mandai Wildlife Group said, ‘We noticed the cloudiness in their lens and moving about like they were having difficulty seeing things in front of them. 

A King Penguin undergoing cataract surgery at The Eye Specialist for Animals clinic

Custom intraocular lenses were implanted into the eye of a King Penguin using a medical apparatus, a first of its kind procedure for penguins

Veterinary Ophthalmologist Dr Gladys Boo (right), checks the eye of a King Penguin, while Senior Veterinary Nurse Marcus Tan, holds the bird

‘Cataract surgeries for animals are increasingly common and effective for restoring vision. 

‘Together with the animal care team, we opted for this procedure to enhance their overall well-being and welfare, as well as aid in the transition to their new home in Bird Paradise when they move. 

‘Since the recovery period, we have observed an increase in responsiveness and activity levels in the penguins. 

A King Penguin undergoing an operation on its cataract, performed by an expert surgeon at The Eye Specialist for Animals

A medical apparatus is used to check the eye pressure of a Humboldt Penguin at Jurong Bird Park

‘It is nice to see them more active, indicating their improved vision, and for the King Penguins – adapting well to the new lenses as well.’ 

Post-operation, the penguins had to keep out of the water and stay in a separate den from the rest of the colony to recover. 

Their keepers at the Jurong Wildlife Park also had to administer eye drops twice a day. 

Happily, vets say the penguins have now made a full recovery two months after the surgery.

Penguin keeper Hafiz Yani prepares male King Penguin, Zorro, for his journey to The Eye Specialist for Animals clinic

As part of the post-surgery aftercare, Penguin keepers and veterinary nurses are administering eye drops for the penguins twice a day

King Penguin Theo recovering from his surgery in a separate den from the main exhibit

The birds are now back with the rest of their colony in Jurong Bird Park, and the improvement in their quality of life is clear to see, according to keepers.

Holly, the Humboldt Penguin, has had a marked improvement in her left eye, which is now cleared up after the cataract was removed. 

Prior to her treatment, the 17-year-old penguin had a noticeable cloudy lens in her left eye. 

But since, keepers say she has been more active and responsive to her environment since her operation, indicating that her vision has improved. 

Other pictures show penguins during their operations, and a king penguin, called Theo, recovering from his surgery.

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