In a heartwarming development in Sunny Singapore, three King Penguins and three Humboldt Penguins, were operated for cataract. Residents of the Jurong Bird Park geriatric Penguins recovered with enhanced sight, which will give them a better quality of life.
The surgeries involved the removal of the cloudy lenses caused by cataracts, a common age-related condition that develops in geriatric animals that hinders their vision. The King Penguins also received custom-made intraocular lens implants, which involved replacing artificial lens on the eye, a procedure believed to be a first in the world for penguins.
Dr Ellen Rasidi, Veterinarian, 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. 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. 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.”
Animals that reach 70 per cent of their life span are placed in a Senior Animal Care Plan, which includes more frequent health checks by the veterinary team and specialised diets to ensure they continue to live quality lives even in old age. As part of the penguins’ care regime, Mandai Wildlife Group engaged veterinary ophthalmologist Dr Gladys Boo from The Eye Specialist for Animals in August 2022 to check the eyes of its penguin colony where the senior penguins were diagnosed with cataracts.
Following the diagnosis, The Eye Specialist for Animals team led by Dr Boo, together with the assistance of the veterinary team from Mandai Wildlife Group, successfully performed cataract surgeries on the penguin patients in December 2022. After the surgery, the penguins had to remain out of the water and stay in a separate den from the rest of the colony to recover, as keepers administered eye drops twice daily.
“The success of these surgeries marks a milestone in veterinary medicine. 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”, said Dr Gladys Boo, Veterinary Ophthalmologist from The Eye Specialist for Animals. “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 lenses were custom-made in Germany to fit each penguin’s eye based on precise measurements taken in advance and took about two months to make. Cataract surgeries on their own are already delicate procedures, but for penguins, it was made trickier by unique characteristics such as a third eyelid which protects their eyes underwater. The third eyelid tends to close during the surgery which can make it difficult for us to access the eye. I’m glad we were able to work through these challenges to improve the lives of these animals.”
The penguins made a full recovery two months after the surgery, and are currently back with the rest of the colony in Jurong Bird Park before they move.