Senior penguins given new lease of life following successful cataract surgery

These surgeries are hailed as a significant milestone in veterinary science, and are part of Mandai Wildlife Group’s Senior Animal Care Programme.

Kelly Chin

Published: 14 March 2023, 3:59 PM

Six geriatric penguins – three King Penguins and three Humboldt penguins – have received cataract surgery to help improve their sight as well as quality of life, said Mandai Wildlife Group in a press release on Mar 14.

These surgeries helped remove the cloudy lenses caused by cataract, a common age-related condition that affects vision. The King Penguins also received surgery for custom-made intraocular lens implants, a first in the world of penguins.


The intraocular lenses were made in Germany according to the precise measurements of each penguin’s eye. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


Dr Ellen Rasidi, a veterinarian at Mandai Wildlife Group and her team had noticed cloudiness in the penguins’ lens which caused them to move with difficulty.

“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,” she said.


As King Penguins are a larger species, they have eyes large and stable enough to hold the custom lenses in place. PHOTO CREDIT: MANDAI WILDLIFE GROUP


After diagnosis, The Eye Specialists for Animals team, along with the veterinary team from Mandai Wildlife Group, successfully performed the cataract surgeries in December 2022. 

The penguins were then located in a separate den away from the rest of the colony for recovery. They had to remain out of water while the keepers administered prescribed eye drops twice daily. 

Since the recovery period, an increase in responsiveness and activity levels have been observed 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.” said Dr Ellen. 

According to Dr Gladys Boo, Veterinary Ophthalmologist from The Eye Specialist for Animals, the success of these surgeries marks a milestone in veterinary medicine. 

She said: “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.”

Animals are put into a Senior Animal Care Plan when they achieve 70 per cent of their life expectancy. This plan involves more frequent health examinations by the veterinary staff and specialised diets to ensure that the animals continue to lead fulfilling lives well into old age.

The penguins have since made a full recovery and have returned to their colony in Jurong Bird Park before they move to the new Bird Paradise.

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