Experts perform cataract surgery on young gorilla to save her eyesight

Posted at 11:13 AM, Jan 08, 2020

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Experts recently came together to save a young gorilla’s eyesight at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

The zoo says animal care specialists became concerned when they noticed that 3-year-old Leslie’s left eye had become cloudy. Closer inspection confirmed that her lens had changed, and her eye was shifting haphazardly, prompting her to favor her other eye.

Because of her age and development stage, veterinarians decided to organize a team of experts, including doctors from UC San Diego Health, to perform the zoo’s first-ever cataract surgery on a gorilla.

Using a pharmaceutical muscle blocker to prevent Leslie from moving, the delicate surgery was performed on Dec. 10.

Dr. Chris W. Heichel, M.D. and his team used a specialized microscope and instruments designed for cataract surgery to successfully remove the cataract, using gentle suction. Once the cloudy lens was removed, the zoo says a new artificial lens was inserted, which is designed to provide Leslie with clear vision for the rest of her life.

Dr. Heichel had performed thousands of eye surgeries on human patients, but this was his first surgery on a gorilla.

“Fortunately, the similarities between the anatomy of human and gorilla eyes are great enough to allow us to safely navigate the procedure without complication,” said Dr. Heichel. “The remainder of the eye appeared to be in excellent health, indicating exceptional visual potential for the rest of Leslie’s life.”

Doctors and caregivers suspect that Leslie’s cataract was a result of an injury, either from a fall while the youngster was practicing her climbing skills or from an overly rambunctious play session with other young gorillas in her troop.

Leslie will be monitored closely, but the zoo says she is already back with her troop in the Gorilla Forest habitat at the Safari Park.

Following successful healing, the only remaining concern is the possibility of the cloudiness recurring.