Contact Lenses for North Carolina Elephant?

6:29 PM

C'sar courtesy NC Asheboro Zoo
Remember reading my posts about cataracts where I said that having a cataract is part of being a human being?  Well, I should have said it is just a part of being alive.  Pet owners know that their cats and dogs are routinely diagnosed with cataracts as they age, and surgeries for removing cataracts are now being done on house pets and larger animals like horses with more and more regularity.  Asheboro zoo tenant C'sar is a 38 year old African Elephant who lost about 1,000 pounds over the course of a year and was showing less and less interest in daily life before veterinarians removed the cataracts that were clouding his sight back in November.  See the full article here.  When humans undergo cataract extraction, a small implant is put in place of the lens (called an IOL) to help return vision to normal after surgery.  NC State veterinarians had planned on putting a similar implant in C'sar's eye, but  were unable to do so due to damage to surrounding ocular tissue.  As a result, C'sar is about +9.00D in prescription.  In layman's terms, everything still looks REALLY blurry to him, despite having his cataract removed.  Due to this high left over prescription, zoo veterinarians are considering fitting the elephant with specialty contact lenses that would return C'sar closer to the vision of his youth.  At this point, the plans are tentative pending how C'sar appears to recover his appetite and will to thrive with just the cataract removal alone.

C'sar after cataract surgery.  An IOL implant was planned, but could not be supported by the remaining ocular tissue so now the elephant is left with a large amount of hyperopia.
C'sar would not be the first elephant fitted with contact lenses if it is determined he needs better vision.  Earlier this year an Amsterdam zoo fit their 44 year old Asian elephant,Win Thida, with a contact lens after she suffered a corneal abrasion. This "bandage" contact lens was left in place until the cornea healed, protecting the eye from further damage.   Unlike Win Thida, C'sar would need a contact lenses long term which would present larger problems to vets.  NC State veterinarians theorize that C'sar would need 38 mm diameter, custom soft contact lenses which would need to be changed at least every 3 months.  Insertion and removal would require sedation, but not anesthesia.  Due to the risk of infection with contact lenses in his environment, they also believe drops would likely need to be inserted 4 or more times a day to keep the lens hydrated and free of bacterial contaminants.  Based on C'sar's recovery progress, they plan to pursue contact lenses if needed in August.  

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  1. Did they ever end up fitting him with these contacts? I think this is an awesome thing and wish I could be part of it! I help fit contacts all day - but to help animals would be so fun.

  2. I haven't been able to find any updates yet. If more news breaks, I will definitely be posting!