This penguin can see clearly now; the clouds are gone

June 10, 2016

A pioneering Texas A&M team hopes the successful cataract surgery will serve as a model for future procedures on elderly penguins.

Photo by Texas A&M Division of Marketing & Communications photographer Gabe Chmielewski. Jeep, a chinstrap penguin from Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, successfully underwent cataract surgery recently at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM) Small Animal Hospital, according to Texas A&M Today.

Jeep's surgery took 45 minutes and involved six fourth-year DVM students, as well as members of the school's recently formed ophthalmology team. The penguin was able to return to Galveston the next morning.

According to Texas A&M Today, one of the hardest parts of the operation was keeping Jeep from overheating. Because the penguin is accustomed to icy temperatures, the team made sure Jeep's environment was between eight to 15 degrees Celsius at all times.

The nearly 30-year-old Jeep is one of six Moody Gardens penguins identified as potential cataract surgery recipients by Texas A&M veterinary ophthalmologists and was the first to undergo the operation. While one of the six has since been removed from the group due to an inoperable detached retina, the remaining four will likely follow in Jeep's webbed footsteps over the coming months.

Shaman Hoppes, DVM, a Texas A&M zoological veterinarian and leader of the operation, believes cataract surgery could become a normal procedure for elderly penguins in the future, as their ability to live longer in captivity makes them vulnerable to cataract development.

“Cataract surgery is the one surgery I would do for any animal at any age because it improves their life so much,” Hoppes told Texas A&M Today. “To have any animal that's lost its vision and have their vision back is huge. These are very social animals, and when they've lost their vision they become more isolated and less social. Getting their vision back is going to be key in getting them back into a social network with their other penguins.”

Going forward, the team plans to fine-tune the procedure for the remaining penguins and closely monitor their recovery and reintroduction into the flock.