Wild snow leopard regains sight after cataract surgery

Xinhua
Linghan was wounded when found by an ecological patroller in January in Zadoi county and sent to Xining Wildlife Park on the "Big Chill" day, one of China's 24 solar terms.
Xinhua

Linghan is over 11 years old, nearing the upper reaches of the average life span for wild snow leopards. Weak, fatigued and almost blind when he was rescued, he now expects a "bright" future after a successful cataract surgery two days ago.

The surgery was done in Xining, capital of northwest China's Qinghai Province on Tuesday.

Linghan was wounded when found by an ecological patroller in early January in Zadoi county and sent to Xining Wildlife Park on the "Big Chill" day, one of China's 24 solar terms.

He was therefore named Linghan, meaning "braving the cold".

"Linghan weighed only about 25 kg when he first arrived. Anyone can tell from his messy and dim hairs that he was in bad condition," said Qi Xinzhang, vice director of the park.

On Feb. 25, a veterinary medical group from China Agricultural University conducted a comprehensive medical examination for Linghan, who found that he suffered from sight impairment due to corneal perforation in his left eye and had a cataract in the right eye.

Surgery was suggested to recover his eyesight but before it could be done, he must have enough physical strength for the operation.

Anti-inflammation in the eyes and nutritional supplements have since been applied. After 10 months of recovery, langhans' weight exceeded 40 kg, and his overall physical index returned to normal.

At 9:50 a.m. Tuesday, Linghan was anesthetized and transferred to a local animal hospital. At 11:45 a.m., he was sent to the operating room. Ninety minutes later, the cataract surgery was done.

Jin Yipeng, medical group leader and deputy dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine of China Agricultural University, said they replaced Linghan's crystalline lens with an artificial one donated by Meni-One, a Japanese pet health company, and sutured his fractured third eyelid to protect the cornea.

"We conducted phacoemulsification cataract surgery on Linghan, which is the most effective surgery to deal with human cataracts. The surgery went well, and we're happy with the result," Jin said.

He added that the surgery will hopefully restore Linghan's eyesight and provide a significant reference in future wildlife rescue. "More animals will hopefully regain their eyesight based on this precedent."

There are 12 snow leopards in Xining Wildlife Park, among which 3-year-old Aoxue is the only to be artificially propagated, while others are kept there because they are aged, weak, sick or disabled.

Qi said Linghan has lost the ability to survive in the wild because his remaining teeth are badly worn. After a full recovery, he will be assigned to a home.

Snow leopards are a Class A protected animal in China and classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They mainly inhabit the Himalayas in central and southern Asia at an altitude of 2,500 to 4,500 meters.

There is an estimated population of 4,500 to 7,500 living in the wild globally, according to IUCN.

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