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Paignton Zoo's Duchess the elephant has UK's first cataract op

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 21, 2012

  • The first ever elephant cataract operation in the UK has been carried out on Duchess at Paignton Zoo, by Jim Carter, right, specialist in veterinary ophthalmology. Below, after the operation Duchess rubs her eye with her trunk. Pictures: Richard Austin

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Zookeepers are carefully monitoring an elephant who was the first in the UK to undergo an eye operation, to discover how much of her sight has returned.

Duchess was said to be recovering well after yesterday's operation to remove a cataract from her left eye.

Paignton Zoo's 42-year-old African elephant had her right eye removed in 2011 because of glaucoma, and has lately become practically blind.

Neil Bemment, curator of mammals and director of operations at the zoo, said staff had high hopes for the operation's success. "It couldn't have gone better," he said. "She went down very smoothly under the anaesthetic and the operation went as well as we could hope."

Mr Bemment said Duchess was still "disorientated" from the procedure and was being kept out of view with plenty of reassurance from staff.

"Her sight had deteriorated to the point where she could only tell the difference between light and shade," Mr Bemment said. "We're hoping that his will restore her sight for most distances. She won't be able to read about herself in the newspaper, but we're hopeful that she will be more familiar in her surroundings."

Consultant ophthalmologist Jim Carter, from Abbotskerswell Veterinary Centre and South Devon Referrals, carried out the operation, which has a 40% to 50% chance of success in his more usual clients, horses.

Duchess has lived alone since her companion Gay was put to sleep in 2010 due to ill health. Mr Bemment said she was content with a good quality of life, and said she may not have another mate in her lifetime. "We are looking, but elephants don't grow on trees, and we're not sure how she would react to a new elephant in her environment."

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