The First Time That Penguins Have Been Given Cataract Surgeries

By Hannah Lozada

After a 19-mile drive, three King penguins and three Humboldt penguins finally made it from Jurong Bird Park into the Mandai Wildlife Reserve, which is a clinic located in Singapore. The penguins had cataracts in their eyes, which made it difficult for them to see. Out of the six penguins, only the three king penguins received artificial lenses to improve their vision. In August 2022, during the Mandai Wildlife Group’s (MWG) senior animal care plan, the three King Penguins were first diagnosed by Dr. Gladys Boo. She is a veterinary ophthalmologist who would later perform and lead their future surgeries. 

In January 2023, a veterinary team of five people from the Mandai Wildlife Reserve were prepared to give surgeries to the penguins. The doctors first removed the cloudy lenses before implanting the custom lenses. According to the MWG, these lenses were made in Germany two months prior with accurate measurements to fit the penguins’ unique eye.  Dr. Ellen Rasidi, a veterinarian at MWG, made a statement to CNN. She stated that the team saw the penguins’ cloudy eyes and that they were moving around “…[like] they were having difficulty seeing things in front of them” (Rasidi).

Dr. Gladys Boo, a veterinary ophthalmologist who performed and led the surgeries said, “…the king penguins have eyes [that are] large [and] stable enough to hold the custom lenses in place.” This allowed the veterinarians to make the decision to implant the artificial lenses to improve their vision. 

The surgery wasn’t simple since penguins have a third eyelid. It protects their eyes while they are underwater and is prone to close during the surgery. But overall, the surgeries were a success. Dr. Boo states that the surgeries mark “… a milestone in veterinary medicine.” Later into her speech, she states, “…it is likely the first time they have been successfully used on penguins.” 

Two months after the surgery, the penguins had fully recovered and are back in their home at Jurong Bird Park, a very popular place that is home to about 5,000 birds. Dr. Rasidi states that the penguins have been doing great, “…we have observed an increase in responsiveness and activity levels in the penguins. It is nice to see them more active, indicating their improved vision, and for the King penguins [who are] adapting well to the new lenses…”

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