Eye operation for Paignton Zoo elephant
Paignton Zoo’s African elephant Duchess is to have an operation to remove an eye.
The four tonne, 40-year-old female elephant has had cataracts – opacity of the lens – in both eyes for some time. She also has glaucoma – increased pressure of the fluid in the aqueous chamber – in her right eye. The two conditions mean that her eye-sight is greatly reduced, with no sight in her right eye and residual sight only in the left.
Ghislaine Sayers, head of veterinary Services for Paignton Zoo, said: “Duchess has been monitored regularly by keepers, in-house vet staff and by ophthalmologists Jim Carter from South Devon referrals in Abbotskerswell and Claudia Hartley from the Animal Health Trust. Recently, the pressure in her right eye has increased to the point where it can no longer be controlled by drugs. The only solution to keep her pain free is to remove the eye.”
Ophthalmologists Jim Carter and David Gould will perform the operation along with the Zoo’s in-house vet team. Duchess will have a general anaesthetic. Specialist equipment is required to keep an animal of this size breathing while under anaesthetic.
Duchess was diagnosed with glaucoma in April this year. In June she had an ultrasound scan on her eye which showed no distortion of the lens. She has been on medication to ease any discomfort. Ghislaine again: “We use eye drops to try and decrease the pressure. It’s the same way glaucoma is treated in humans. The drops worked short term but became less effective. Long-term pain relief can have side effects, so this is the best option for her welfare. Removing the blind eye will not affect her vision but should improve her welfare.”
The keepers trained Duchess to lower her head so that they could administer eye drops. Paignton Zoo Curator of Mammals Neil Bemment: “We do Positive Reinforcement Training with various species so we can give them routine checks. Being able to manoeuvre Duchess with her full cooperation makes everything so much easier for her and for the animal staff.”