First penguin in New Zealand to undergo cataract surgery makes full recovery – Stuff

A penguin from Auckland’s Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium has become the first of its kind to undergo cataract surgery in New Zealand.
Cardi, a seven-year-old gentoo penguin, underwent the surgery on April 29, after developing vision-blocking cataracts in both eyes.
The symptoms started when she was young, and continued to develop over time, taking away more of her vision as they progressed, said Amy Wardrop, penguin keeper at Kelly Tarlton’s.
“This began to impact her quality of life, as she would startle easily when keepers or other penguins moved around her suddenly.
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“She often had a hunched posture as she tried to angle her head, so she could see through the limited window of vision she had around the cataract.”
Gentoo penguins are a social species, so being able to interpret and respond appropriately to social cues is important for their welfare, and a lot of these cues are visual, Wardrop said.
Staff became concerned about the cataracts developing further, and taking away even more of her vision.
Operating surgeon Dr Peter Hadden said Eye Institute regularly performs cataract surgery on human patients, however, they were up to the challenge of welcoming their first ever feathered patient into the operating theatre.
Specialist equipment, separate from what is used on human patients, was ordered to ensure the staff could operate safely on a penguin, he said.
“There was a rigorous process required both before and after the surgery to ensure the highest levels of safety and cleanliness were met at all times.”
The operating team had a refrigerated truck waiting outside because it was important Cardi did not overheat.
“Our usual bed also wasn’t appropriate for a penguin, so we had to modify it,” said Hadden.
Vets from Auckland Zoo who specialise in animal anaesthesia attended the surgery to administer the anaesthetic and monitor Cardi throughout surgery.
“The surgery took longer than usual, because the cataract was so advanced.
“Most humans would have had cataract surgery much earlier due to the severe impact on vision.”
However, Cardi’s recovery and reintegration into the colony was a complete success.
“The cataract was successfully removed from her right eye,” Hadden said.
She was then placed into a smaller area of the penguin section for three weeks post-surgery to keep her out of the pool.
This was also to ensure the team could reliably administer eye drops and medication to prevent any infection or inflammation in the eye as it healed, he said.
“We had completed some eye-drop training with Cardi before her surgery so these caused minimal stress, and we let her partner and any other interested Gentoos in with her throughout the day, so she had company while she recovered.”
Since her recovery, the sea life team have noticed a change in Cardi’s confidence.
“She no longer displays a hunched posture and is much more interactive with other penguins, keepers and enrichment items,” said Wardrop.
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