Vets from the Animal Health Trust (AHT) have worked with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey to help a blind lemur see again.
It’s the first time the AHT has carried out such an operation on a member of the lemur family. Veterinary surgeons Claudia Hartley and Rachael Grundon from the AHT visited Jersey to perform the operation.
The AHT, based in Suffolk, houses the largest ophthalmology unit in Europe and treats more than 3,000 ocular patients each year.
Typically, it treats horses, dogs and cats, but – from time to time – it is able to use its expertise to help more exotic animals with sight problems.
Claudia, head of ophthalmology at the AHT, said: “In the past, we’ve helped elephants, bears, lions and even eagles to see again.
“Whether it’s a beloved family pet or a more exotic animal, there is nothing quite like the feeling of restoring sight to an animal – especially witnessing it see again for the first time. It really is the best job in the world.”
Durrell’s head veterinarian Andrew Routh said it had approached Claudia and Rachael as they specialised in animal ophthalmology and had considerable expertise in this very specific type of surgery.
“The AHT also provided the specialist equipment required for the surgery including a phacoemulsification machine and operating microscope,” he said.
Sam was originally noted to be suffering from some ocular inflammation in January, having been examined by a local human ophthalmologist, Bartley McNeela, who has previously helped with ocular problems in other animals.
After a thorough examination it was concluded Sam had developed cataracts in both eyes and, due to the decreased quality of life associated with visual impairment, the Durrell staff decided the best option would be to remove the cataracts surgically.
After the operation, the first three days were critical and his keepers had to monitor him carefully to make sure he didn’t damage his wounds. Cataract surgery in humans usually requires several applications of eye drops on a daily basis to prevent infections and inflammation after the surgery. In this case, Sam received oral medications to help prevent any postoperative problems.
Six weeks on, Sam is now enjoying a new lease of life, and has been showing dominant behaviours in his mixed-lemur group, indicating he is feeling more like his old self again.
Leaping from branch-to-branch requires excellent vision and accuracy, and Sam appears to be on fine form in both respects, easily reaching his favourite spots high above Durrell’s Lemur Lake exhibit.
Durrell’s Kelly Barker said: “Our staff are really attached to Sam; he’s a real character. But we’ll do anything we can to improve the quality of life for any of our animals.”
A short video clip about Sam’s operation can be viewed at www.durrell.org/blind-lemur