First-ever gorilla eye surgery successful

Posted by Imogen Searra on 8 January 2020

Leslie, a 3-year-old female western lowland gorilla living in San Diego Zoo Safari Park underwent the first-ever cataract surgery performed on a gorilla.

According to a statement released by the zoo, animal care specialists noticed her left eye turning cloudy, prompting the Safari Park veterinarians to organise a team of internal and external expert ophthalmologists and anesthesiologists from UC San Diego Health to perform the operation.

In a statement Meredith Clancy, DVM, San Diego Zoo Safari Park associate veterinarian said: ‘As veterinarians, we are experts in our species, but we are not necessarily specialists in all of the different fields of medicine. We rely heavily on the amazing community we have here in San Diego to help us out.’

The operation took place on 10 December 2019 at the Safari Park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center. Chris W. Heichel, M.D., cataract surgery specialist at Shiley Eye Institute at UC San Diego Health performed the surgery.

‘Dr. Heichel and his team employed a specialised microscope and instruments designed for cataract surgery to successfully remove the cataract in Leslie’s left eye, using gentle suction. Once the cloudy lens was removed, a new artificial lens was inserted, which is designed to provide Leslie with a clear vision for the rest of her life,’ said the zoo in a statement.

Dr. Heichel has performed cataracts surgery on thousands of human patients, ages of 1-day-old to 105-years-old but this was his first operation on a gorilla. ‘Fortunately, the similarities between the anatomy of human and gorilla eyes are great enough to allow us to safely navigate the procedure without complication,” said Dr. Heichel. ‘The remainder of the eye appeared to be in excellent health, indicating exceptional visual potential for the rest of Leslie’s life.’

The team believe that the cataracts developed as a result of an injury, either from falling while learning to climb or from boisterous playing with other young gorillas in her troop.

Photo taken on Dec. 10, 2019, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Image: Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo Safari Park

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