The future’s looking bright for Munch the penguin after successful cataract surgery at one of the country’s leading eye vets saved him from going blind.
Four-year-old Munch, a South American Humboldt penguin, who lives at Chester Zoo, was struggling to feed himself as his vision was so poor he couldn’t catch any fish to eat.
The zoo quickly called in experts at the Linnaeus-owned Eye Vet Referrals, in Sutton Weaver, Cheshire, who discovered that Munch was suffering from cataracts in both eyes.
Eye Vet clinical director Iona Mathieson, an Advanced Practitioner in Veterinary Ophthalmology, took charge of his treatment and is delighted with the outcome.
Iona explained: “We go to Chester Zoo periodically to help with ocular cases but this was an extra special case for me because I love penguins.
“I’ve been in the veterinary field for almost 24 years and Munch is the first penguin I’ve operated on. We’re really happy the surgery was successful and he is now on the way to making a full recovery.
“Munch had been struggling to cope as he had cataracts in both eyes and his eye sight was so poor the only solution was to operate.
“Unlike in human patients, animals need a general anaesthetic to ensure they stay still for the surgery. We also needed to inject muscle relaxing drugs into the eye to keep the pupil wide enough for us to access the cataract.
“Once that was done, we made an incision into the cornea at the front of the eye and injected a gel into it to stop the eye from collapsing.
“Then we made another cut in front of the lens and inserted a needle that delivers ultrasound waves to break up the cataracts and improve his vision.
“The process is called Phacoemulsification and works very well. Normally, we would go on to fit an artificial lens, too, but there isn’t one small enough for a penguin and we know that penguins cope well without having an artificial lens replacement.
“We needed to perform what’s called a ‘Menace Test’ to check if his eyes were working properly again and he could identify a potential threat.
“No-one was brave enough to prod a finger towards Munch, so we used my orange operating theatre shoe and, sure enough, Munch bit it!
“It was a funny moment and a happy moment, as straightaway we knew the operation had been success and Munch could go home to the zoo.”
Following his operation, Munch and his life-long partner Wurly – the penguins are named after confectionary and snacks – were separated from the rest of the colony for a couple of weeks and kept away from deep water until his eyes had fully recovered from the surgery.
He already had a twinkle in his eye, though, as the pair are now incubating an egg and keepers are hopeful that they’ll have chicks soon, which is especially good news as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classes Humboldts as vulnerable to extinction.
What’s more, Munch is now back in the pool and can feed himself again, so everything is going swimmingly for him.
Iona said: “It was a wonderful case for us to deal with. I love penguins and all the staff at Eye Vet were really excited to have Munch here.
“Like many of the staff at the zoo, our team has worked throughout the national lockdowns, so taking care of Munch was just the morale boost we all needed.
“Everyone wanted to see him and make a fuss of him, so much so we’ve even decided to sponsor him now.
“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that we’ve helped save him. He was the first thing that made me smile in a long time and caring for him was definitely the best part of my year. We can’t wait to visit him and the penguin colony now the zoo has reopened.”
Sophie Bissaker, Parrots and Penguin Keeper at Chester Zoo, has overseen Munch’s recovery at the zoo.
She said: “It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved and although Munch is still receiving daily eye drops to help him heal, he’s already swimming through the water faster, feeding with the group again and waddling around with ease.
“He’s a confident, happy little guy again thanks to the wonderful work from Iona and the the team at Eye Vet.”
Eye Vet Referrals is a fully equipped referral clinic with cutting edge ophthalmic equipment which enables them to provide gold standard veterinary care.
For more information, visit https://www.eye-vet.co.uk/ or search for Eye Vet on social media.