Eye specialists have given Paignton Zoo’s 40-year-old African elephant Duchess a check-up.
The experts carried out an ultrasound examination on the elephant, who weighs in at nearly 4 tonnes. She has a mature cataract causing blindness in the right eye and an immature cataract in the left, where there is still some vision.
The procedure was carried out by Claudia Hartley, head of Small Animal Ophthalmology at the Animal Health Trust, based in Suffolk. Claudia works closely with Veterinary Specialist Ophthalmologist Jim Carter from South Devon Referrals, based at Abbotskerswell Veterinary Centre. The two have been monitoring Duchess’s eyes for some time.
Sarah Chapman, Veterinary Associate at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, explained: “We wanted to check that the lens in the right eye was still in place and not moving around the eye, which could cause a blockage and pain.
“We have been training Duchess for this procedure for the last few weeks as we didn’t want to have to sedate her. This has taken many hours of keeper and vet time – we didn’t want to rush things and put her off.”
Local anaesthetic eye drops were put in Duchess’s eye so she couldn’t feel anything, then the ultrasound probe, with gel on the end, was placed directly onto the cornea.
Sarah said: “She was a fantastic patient on the day and stood for Claudia really well so she could get a good view of the eyes and take measurements. The good news is that the ultrasound showed us that the lens in the right eye is in place, though we have put her on some more eye drops to help keep the pressure down.
“This was a really important step in our care of Duchess and will help us monitor the cataracts with more accuracy. Claudia brought along a very specialised piece of equipment and has given us lots of expert advice, which we appreciate very much.”
Keeper Jim Dicks added: “We got Duchess used to having a bit of gel around her eye and to the idea of having a probe close to her eye. She is a quick learner. She gets a reward afterwards so it is all very positive and we can repeat the exercise in the future as necessary.”