Vet Saves Tiger’s Eye in Pioneering Surgery

Ratna the tiger was lucky to have Dr. Williams in her corner.

Jun 26, 2021
Tiger from Shepreth Wildlife Park after pioneering eye surgery

(Courtesy of Shepreth Wildlife Park)

Meet Ratna, a 17 year-old Sumatran tiger who lives at Shepreth Wildlife Park near Cambridge, England. Like all tigers, one of Ratna’s most important senses is her eyesight. According to Discover Wildlife, a tiger’s night vision is six times better than that of humans. This allows them to hunt and stalk their prey. Unfortunately,  Ratna has had some issues with her left eye but luckily, a surgeon was able to save it and help her get a new lease on life. 

Previously, doctors had removed a cataract from Ratna’s left eye. The BBC reports that the eye had a corneal ulcer which was diagnosed by a special eye veterinarian. Dr. David Williams from the Queen's Veterinary School Hospital at the University of Cambridge, came to look at the ulcer. He stated that, "I think perhaps she'd managed to jab her eye on a stick of bamboo in her enclosure.” 

Since the eye didn’t seem to be healing properly, Dr. Williams and Steve Philp, a veterinarian from the International Zoo Veterinary Group, performed the world’s first such operation on a big cat, the following day. Dr. Williams said, "I don't think anyone's ever done this before in this species." 

MSN confirms that the operation took just 30 minutes. During the surgery itself, a hood graft procedure was performed. This secures the flap of the conjunctiva, the pink of the eye, over the cornea. With this small fix in place, Ratna’s cornea can heal itself.  

Two months later, Dr. Williams was able to give Ratna a clean bill of health. The park’s director, Rebecca Willers, said that "Her coordination seems much better now, and the best thing is the operation has eradicated the need for Ratna to have her eye drops - and she was never that keen on those.” Ratna now has more confidence and her eye isn’t bothering her anymore.

A tiger’s eyes are a key factor in their survival. Seaworld explains that tigers have binocular vision which allows them to correctly determine depth and distances. This helps them optimally move around and watch their prey. Additionally, tigers' eyes have large pupils and lenses. This increases the level of light that enters the eye. Night vision is therefore enhanced.

Dr. Williams' passion for animals and his strong skill set allowed him to provide Ratna with a better quality of life. The surgery was extremely risky since Ratna is still a wild animal and the size of a person,  weighing 205 pounds.

As quoted on Cambridge Independent, Willers explained, “It’s very high stakes when you operate on a tiger because, as well as the anaesthetic risks, you can’t put a collar on them like you would with a domestic cat to stop them playing with the wound. You just have to hope they will let it heal.” Thanks to Dr. Williams, Ratna is now able to live out the rest of her years without further deterioration and pain in her left eye.

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Jackie Schindler teaches EFL to students between the ages of 5-15. She is passionate about making English relevant, fun and memorable. She always tries to look on the bright side in every situation. She is an avid reader, writer, traveler and always on the hunt for the best iced coffee.