Durrell is known for its ground-breaking work around the world but now, together with experts from the Animal Health Trust (AHT), it has performed something of a miracle at its headquarters in Jersey – giving a blind lemur his sight back!
An excerpt of the operation can be viewed here: www.durrell.org/blind-lemur
Sam, the red fronted brown lemur, underwent two hours of surgery to have cataracts removed from both his eyes. 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 revolutionary operation.
The AHT houses the largest ophthalmology unit in Europe and treats more than three thousand ocular patients each year. Typically, the team are treating 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 Hartley, 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 them see again for the first time. It really is the best job in the world!”
Andrew Routh, Durrell’s Head Veterinarian said “We approached Claudia and Rachael of the AHT as they specialise in animal ophthalmology and have 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.”
Sam was originally noted to be suffering from some ocular inflammation in January 2014, 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 that 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.
The last six weeks have been nerve-racking for keepers whilst he has been recovering from his big op – 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 has been receiving oral medications which will help to prevent any post-operative 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 that 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, the world-renowned conservation charity has been working with the striking looking primates since 2008. They are native to Madagascar where they are at risk of extinction in certain parts primarily due to habitat destruction. Hunting and trapping for food or the pet trade also constitute a major threat to this species, which is one of the most commonly hunted in the country.
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.”