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Sight For Sore Eyes: This Elephant May Get Contact Lenses
June 24, 2012
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C'Sar, a 38-year-old bull elephant at the North Carolina Zoo, may soon become the first elephant to get contact lenses. But the veterinarians and caretakers at the zoo are concerned that the risks of giving the elephant corrective lenses may outweigh the benefits.

C'Sar at the zoo:


In 2010, zookeepers noticed that C'Sar seemed lethargic and depressed, and was having trouble getting around his 7.5 acre exhibit. He had also lost 1,000 of his 12,000 pounds. "We would throw food in front of him, and he couldn't even see it", said Rod Hackney, public relations manager at the zoo. C'Sar's caretakers examined him and discovered that he had cataracts in both eyes.

In October 2011, C'Sar had his first cataract surgery, with a second procedure taking place this May. While the surgeries seem to have helped - C'Sar is now back to his original weight and appears upbeat - they have also left the elephant farsighted. This may necessitate the use of contact lenses.

Doctors perform cataract surgery on C'Sar:


But getting contacts into an elephant's eyes can be difficult: "When we get close to his eye he'll squint pretty tightly", Richard McMullen, assistant professor of veterinary ophthalmology at North Carolina State University said. "That's the first hurdle we have to overcome". Also, once in, the lenses would have to be changed every three months - and since C'Sar suffers from arthritis and can't return to a standing position on his own, he'd have to be sedated during the procedure.

Given those concerns, and uncertainty about other potential long-term effects, the zoo is not sure they will go ahead with the contact lens plan. McMullen says the decision is still "a long way" off, and that "there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered".

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