C’sar, the North Carolina Zoo’s oldest male elephant and one of the park’s most well-known animals, underwent successful cataract surgery for the second time in six months recently, an unusual procedure for elephants.
The 38-year-old African bull has been a zoo celebrity since arriving in 1978 at age four. Initially diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes in 2010, his failing sight forced animal staff to keep C’sar off exhibit from March 2011 until his recovery from the first surgery conducted on his left eye in November 2011.
Both eye procedures were performed by a team of specialists from the N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine led by surgeon Dr. Richard McMullen. Original plans had called for installation of a specially created artificial lens in each eye. But damaged tissue caused over the years by the cataracts would not have provided enough support for the replacement lenses, McMullen said. If successful, they would have been the first artificial lens implants ever installed on an elephant.
Removal of the first cataract improved C’sar’s vision immediately, according to zoo senior veterinarian Dr. Ryan DeVoe, although without the lens implants he is farsighted. Surgery on the right eye was completed in about two hours, DeVoe said. C’sar is expected to return to the N.C. Zoo’s seven-acre elephant exhibit within several weeks after keepers and veterinarians have time to observe the animal’s recovery and improvement.
According to DeVoe, the cataract surgeries have opened the door to possible installation of specially designed contact lenses that could improve the elephant’s sight even more. That may occur in the fall, again depending upon the elephant’s recovery and eye conditions, the DeVoe added. The installation of contact lenses would also mark a first in the history of veterinary medical care for elephants, DeVoe noted.