U.K. Vets Remove Cataracts in Asian Bear

Animal Health Trust and Animals Asia team up to save a juvenile moon bear’s eyesight.

The veterinary charity Animal Health Trust successfully performed cataract surgery on a moon bear that was rescued from the wild in Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa province.

The juvenile bear, named James, had learned to live and play in virtual darkness, according to Animals Asia, which hosted the surgery at its Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre. Animals Asia is a group dedicated to fighting the harvesting of bear bile, an ingredient used in traditional Chinese medicine, and to other animal welfare causes.

Ophthalmologists from the U.K.-based Animal Health Trust found a cataract in James’ left eye and a hypermature cataract in the right eye, which the veterinarians feared was permanently useless because it showed little to no reaction to light.

The recent surgery should completely restore vision in the left eye and partially in the right, the veterinarians said.

“It is very difficult for us to estimate how much James can see with his right eye, because blind bears will use their keen sense of smell and hearing to move around,” said Animals Asia senior veterinarian Joost Philippa, DVM, Ph.D.

“Even with cataracts in both eyes it was sometimes difficult to notice that James could probably only see very little,” Dr. Philippa said.

The ophthalmologists used a technique called phacoemulsification.

“The expert team made a tiny incision in each eye,” Animals Asia reported, “after which an instrument was inserted which used ultrasound to break down the lens. The lens segments were then vacuumed out of the eye, taking the cataract with them. Through the same tiny hole, a foldable lens was then inserted in place of the natural one.”

Moon bears, also known as Asian black bears, live in the wild in many countries but are threatened by deforestation and hunting, according to animal welfare groups.

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