3 King penguins at Jurong Bird Park receive eye lens implants in likely world-first procedure

The penguins are getting old, and were diagnosed with cataracts.

Gawain Pek | March 14, 2023, 04:06 PM

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For humans, complex medical procedures can help dial back the clock and fend off the health woes that come with old age.

For three King penguins from Jurong Bird Park, this is no different --- their ailing vision was improved after receiving new custom-made eye lens implants as part of a cataract surgery.

Three Humboldt penguins also received cataract surgery to help with their ageing eyesight.

Cloudy lenses, unusual movements led to diagnosis

Ellen Rasidi, a veterinarian at Mandai Wildlife Group, shared that the six penguins' ailing eye health was picked up after it was noticed that they had cloudiness in their lens.

The penguins were also "moving about like they were having difficulty seeing things in front of them."

Holly the Humboldt penguin pre-surgery. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

As part of the penguins' care regime, Mandai Wildlife Group engaged a veterinary opthalmologist to check the eyes of its penguin colony.

The senior penguins were subsequently diagnosed with cataracts.

Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

In captivity, Humboldt penguins can live up to 15 to 20 years.

King penguins, on the other hand, have a lifespan of about 26 years in the wild.

A spokesperson from Mandai Wildlife Group told Mothership that the three Humboldt penguins which received the treatment are seven, 13 and 17 years old.

All three King penguins are above 20 years old, the spokesperson said.

King penguins received likely "world-first" procedure

In December 2022, the opthalmologist and her team, together with vets from Mandai Wildlife Group, successfully performed cataract surgery for the six penguins.

An operation on a King penguin. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

Removing cataract. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

As part of the cataract surgery, the three King penguins also received intraocular lens implants.

The implants were ordered in advance and custom-made in Germany.

The lenses took about two months to be ready.

Custom-made intraocuar lens implants for the King penguins. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

Putting in custom lens for a King penguin. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

Gladys Boo, one veterinary opthamologist involved in the treatment, shared that the King penguins received the implants because their anatomical characteristics made them suitable for the treatment.

"The King penguins have eyes large and stable enough to hold the custom lenses in place," Boo explained.

"While intraocular lens implants are common for humans and some domestic mammals, it is likely the first time they have been successfully used on penguins," Boo further commented.

The smaller Humboldt penguins did not receive the implants.

While the penguin's anatomy was suitable for the treatment, it was still a challenging feat.

Penguins have a third eyelid which protects their eyes underwater.

According to Boo, the third eyelid tends to close during the surgery, which "can make it difficult for us to access the eye."

Nonetheless, the surgeries were successful and "marks a milestone in veterinary medicine".

Penguins recovered well and back with colony

During their recovery post-surgery, the penguins had to remain out of water and stay in a separate den from the rest of the colony.

Eye drops were also administered by keepers twice daily.

"The penguins made a full recovery two months after the surgery, and are currently back with the rest of the colony in Jurong Bird Park before they move," Mandai Wildlife Group said in its press release.

Holly the Humboldt penguin post-surgery. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

Zorro the King penguin post-surgery. Image via Mandai Wildlife Group.

The penguins were observed to be more active post-recovery, Mandai Wildlife Group shared in a video posted to the Mandai Wildlife Reserve Facebook page.

Check out the penguins' treatment and recovery journey in the video here:

Penguins to move from Jurong to Mandai

Jurong Bird Park closed its doors on Jan. 3, 2023, and will move to the Mandai area.

The park will be renamed Bird Paradise and re-open at its new location in the second quarter of 2023.

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Top image via Mandai Wildlife Group