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Elderly penguins get lenses in first-of-its-kind cataract surgery

Three elderly king penguins were fitted with custom eye lenses during surgery to remove cataracts, in what is believed to be the world’s first procedure to improve the birds’ eyesight, according to a Singapore zoo.

In a statement on Tuesday, veterinarians at the Mandai Wildlife Group said the birds were among six elderly penguins who underwent cataract surgery two months ago and have since made a full recovery.

They include three King Penguins aged 20 years and older and three Humboldt Penguins, aged 7 to 13, who live at Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.

Cataracts, which cause cloudy areas that make it difficult to see, are a common age-related condition in people and animals.

“We noticed the cloudiness in their (eyes) moving around as if they were having trouble seeing things in front of them,” said veterinarian Ellen Rasidi, explaining the decision to remove the cataracts.

The king penguins received custom intraocular lens implants, said Gladys Boo, a veterinary ophthalmologist who participated in the surgeries, which she said were “a milestone in veterinary medicine.”

The lenses were custom-made in Germany to fit each penguin’s eye — a process that took two months, Boo said.

“As a larger species, king penguins have eyes that are large and stable enough to keep custom lenses in place, so we decided to follow this worldwide procedure to further improve their vision before having the cataract removed,” she said.

Photos taken backstage showed the delicate procedure, which Boo said is especially tricky for penguins due to their unique characteristics, such as a third eyelid that protects the eyes underwater but tends to close during surgery.

After the surgery, all six penguins had to remain out of the water and keepers administered eye drops twice a day.

King penguins are the second largest penguin species and are found in the Southern Ocean and sub-Antarctic region.

Although they are not endangered, they are protected by wildlife laws. They can weigh up to 18 kilos and reach up to 1 meter in height and can live up to 30 years in captivity.

Zoo officials and veterinarians said they had seen “an increase in responsiveness and activity levels” in the penguins after surgery.

“It’s good to see them more active, indicating an improvement in vision,” said Rasidi, the veterinarian. “King penguins are also adapting well to the new lens.”

Singapore’s world-famous Jurong Bird Park was home to around 3,500 birds, including parrots, flamingos and eagles, before closing its doors last August to prepare for a move to new premises, where it will join the city’s zoo and night safari and a new luxury resort to form an ecotourism hub.

The park has been involved in several high-profile rescues and rehabilitation efforts over the years – including treating a hornbill with cancer by fitting it with a 3D-printed prosthetic beak.

Source: CNN Brasil

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