Senior penguins receive revolutionary cataract surgery


Some of the penguins received custom-made intraocular lens implants, a procedure believed to be the first-ever done for penguins

Mandai Wildlife Reserve, based in Singapore, recently announced that successful cataract surgery was performed on Jurong Bird Park’s geriatric penguins, including 3 king penguins and 3 Humboldt penguins. The surgeries have helped improve their sight and quality of life.

Dr Boo, veterinary ophthalmologist examines the eye of a king penguin while Marcus Tan, senior veterinary technician holds the bird (All images courtesy of Mandai Wildlife Group).

Dr Boo, veterinary ophthalmologist examines the eye of a king penguin while Marcus Tan, senior veterinary technician holds the bird (All images courtesy of Mandai Wildlife Group).

According to an organizational release,1 the surgeries consisted of removing the cloudy lenses caused by cataracts, a common age-related condition that affects geriatric animals' vision. The king penguins also received custom-made intraocular lens implants which included replacing artificial lens on the eye, a procedure believed to be a first in the world for penguins.

“We noticed the cloudiness in their lens and moving about like they were having difficulty seeing things in front of them. Cataract surgeries for animals are increasingly common and effective for restoring vision,” said Ellen Rasidi, BVSc, BSc (Vet)(Hons), veterinarian at Mandai Wildlife Group, in the release. “Together with the animal care team, we opted for this procedure to enhance their overall well-being and welfare, as well as aid in the transition to their new home in Bird Paradise when they move. Since the recovery period, we have observed an increase in responsiveness and activity levels in the penguins. It is nice to see them more active, indicating their improved vision, and for the King Penguins – adapting well to the new lenses as well.”1

A king penguin named Theo recovering post surgery.

A king penguin named Theo recovering post surgery.

Animals that reach 70% of their life span are placed in a Senior Animal Care Plan, which consists of more frequent health checks by the veterinary team and specialized diets to promote their life quality as they age. As part of the penguins’ care routine, Mandai Wildlife Group recruited veterinary ophthalmologist Gladys Boo, BVSc, BVMS (Hons), BSc, DAVCO, from The Eye Specialist for Animals, in August 2022 to examine the eyes of its penguin colony where the senior penguins were diagnosed with cataracts.

After the diagnosis, Boo, together with the assistance of the veterinary team from Mandai Wildlife Group, performed cataract surgeries on the penguin patients in December 2022. After the surgery, the penguins had to remain out of water and in a separate den from the rest of the colony to recover, as keepers administered eye drops twice daily.

“The success of these surgeries marks a milestone in veterinary medicine. 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,” said Boo, in the release.

She added, “As a larger species, the king penguins have eyes large and stable enough to hold the custom lenses in place, so we decided to pursue this world-first procedure to further improve their vision above removing the cataract. The lenses were custom-made in Germany to fit each penguin’s eye based on precise measurements taken in advance and took about two months to make. Cataract surgeries on their own are already delicate procedures, but for penguins, it was made trickier by unique characteristics such as a third eyelid which protects their eyes underwater. The third eyelid tends to close during the surgery which can make it difficult for us to access the eye. I’m glad we were able to work through these challenges to improve the lives of these animals.”1

Two months following the surgery, the penguins made a full recovery and are back with the rest of the colony in Jurong Bird Park before they move.


Vision renewed for senior penguins following successful cataract surgery hailed as a milestone in veterinary medicine. News release. Mandai Wildlife Reserve. March 14, 2023. Accessed March 16, 2023.

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