Friday, February 29, 2008

Raja's Eye Surgery
Raja is a nine-year-old clouded leopard at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. He is the reason for the inception of the Clouded Leopard Project and is very dear to all of us at the Zoo and the CLP. When Raja was a very young cub he developed cataracts in both eyes and had them surgically removed. This procedure also included the removal of his lenses, therefore leaving him extremely farsighted. (Without the focusing ability of the lenses, his eyes can see things at a distance well, but up-close objects would appear very blurry.) Raja has always functioned well despite this disability, probably attributable to his familiarity with his environment at the zoo as well as his reliance on his other senses. However, recently his vision seemed to be getting worse - he demonstrated greater difficulty locating objects, such as his food pan, put into his enclosure. Last summer, veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Tom Sullivan examined Raja's eyes and determined that he had considerable growth of opaque tissue in his left eye that was severely limiting his vision. On Friday Dr. Sullivan performed surgery to correct this problem. It was a fascinating procedure that I thought might be interesting to share here.

First, Raja was anesthetized and prepped for the procedure.

Prepping Raja
Here he is, all set for surgery. He has the metal gag in his mouth to make sure he doesn't bite down on the intubation tube that is delivering the anesthetic to his lungs.

Ready for surgery
Before starting the procedure, Dr. Sullivan examined Raja's eye again.

Because eye surgery involves intricate handling of very small bits, magnifying tools are critical equipment. Here Dr. Sullivan positions his magnifying scope before getting started.

Surgery is underway

Surgery startsSurgery.
The next shot is not for the squeamish... Here Dr. Sullivan is removing the opaque tissue that was blocking Raja's vision.

Removing capsule
This is the tissue he took out. Dr. Sullivan believes it grew because Raja was so young when his lenses were removed. At that age his lens capsule (the membrane containing the lens) would still be depositing lens material as he grew. Without the lens in place to provide a substrate for the growing tissue, it was laid down abnormally, almost like scar tissue. This fibrous material filled the place of the lens in the capsule.

Removed tissue
It was amazing watching him make the tiny sutures to close the incision in Raja's eye!

After the procedure was complete, Dr. Sullivan administered antibiotic eye drops. Raja will remain on oral antibiotics for 10 days as his eye heals.

Post surgery medsHere's Raja, post surgery - on his way to a life of better vision!

A new Raja
On Saturday Raja was a bit sleepier than usual, but otherwise demonstrated no ill effects from the surgery. Fortunately he isn't rubbing or bothering his eye in any way so he must not be experiencing too much discomfort. It is amazing how resiliant animals are. I know I would be whining like crazy if this happened to me! All of Raja's caretakers would like to give Dr. Sullivan a great deal of thanks for volunteering his time to improve Raja's life. And as always, thanks to the amazing vet staff of the Zoo for the ongoing high quality of Raja's care.


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