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Cambridge vet saves a tiger’s eye in a first-of-its-kind operation4 min read

June 18, 2021 3 min read

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Cambridge vet saves a tiger’s eye in a first-of-its-kind operation4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yes, you read that right. It’s not the leg, or the gut but….

Image: Giphy

Let’s meet the tiger who underwent the tough surgery, and the surgeon who performed this unique operation.

Image: BBC

Ratna is an 18-year-old tiger from the Shepreth Wildlife Park near Cambridge.
She had undergone a cataract surgery before she was moved to the park, along with her daughter. Her eyesight in the left eye had already been compromised.
It was only at the Wildlife Park that the staff noticed that her left eye was further deteriorating. Ratna needed regular eye drops, and this is when the staff noticed the problem. An initial surgery had been carried out to fix the discoloration but it did not have the desired effect. At this stage, an eye specialist found the reason for this decline to be a corneal ulcer.

What is cataract?
It is the clouding of the lens of the eye. Cataract blocks the light entering the lens preventing the retina from making a sharp image. This blurs the vision.

Image: Vision Ease

Ratna loved sitting at the top platform of her enclosure but before the surgery she seemed to have become uncertain about getting down.

This is when surgeon Dr. David Williams from the Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital in the University of Cambridge stepped in.

The surgeon posing outside the tiger enclosure. Image: BBC

Dr. Williams visited Ratna and deduced that that she may have injured herself with a bamboo stick in her enclosure. The following day, Dr Williams with the help of Steve Philp (a vet from the International Zoo Veterinary Group) performed what is believed to be the first-of-its-kind operation on a big cat!

While corneal ulcers are not uncommon in cats, Dr. Williams said that it required a massive amount of anaesthesia for Ratna, who weighs a mighty 93 kilograms. With domestic cats, recovery is easier to monitor as one can ensure that they do not play with their wounds. This was the tricky part for the big cat that Ratna is! The doctors used the hood graft method wherein the flap of conjuctiva, the pink of the tiger’s eye, was secured over the cornea as it healed itself.

While there were speculations that another surgery, and anaesthesia may be very hard for the tiger to take, the operation that lasted for 30 minutes, was undoubtably a success!

It was only after careful monitoring for two whole months that Dr. Williams confirmed that Ratna had now healed!

Image: BBC

Following the operation, Ratna has no need of the eye-drops that she was not very fond of in the first place. Dr. Williams believed that there was not much vision left in the left eye even before the operation, but this move saved the tiger’s eye. The strong vision in her right eye helps her live unobstructed. Most importantly, the surgery took away the pain she was experiencing.

Ratna allowed Dr. Williams to check on her for several weeks following the surgery. She is all healed, now. Image: BBC

Ratna is a Sumatran tiger, and there are less than 400 of them left in the world. Efforts are being all over to ensure that we continue to hear this species roar throughout the jungles of the world!

Do you remember the winning photograph from 2020’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year? It features the star species of the story. Unravel the picture by solving the puzzle:

With excerpts from BBC and Cambridge Independent