Wednesday 30 November 2016

Blind Orangutan Can See Again


The critically endangered ape called Aan is about to undergo an operation that will hopefully restore her sight.

British veterinary ophthalmologist Claudia Hartley believes there is a “good chance” of restoring enough vision to allow Aan to return to the wild.

Aan captured the hearts of animal lovers around the world in 2012 when she was blinded by a fusillade of air rifle pellets on a palm oil plantation in Indonesian Borneo.

Although she underwent a three-hour operation that removed a third of the pellets, the 37 that had hit her face destroyed her left eye and badly damaged the right.

Aan is aged between 10 and 12 and only the care of the Orangutan Foundation has allowed Aan survive as she was unable to find food or shelter.

For the past four years she has been looked after at the Lamandau River wildlife reserve in Borneo.

Although Ms Hartley initially felt nothing could be done for Aan after reviewing x-rays, during a recent visit she discovered there is now hope that enough sight can be restored to allow the orangutan to survive in the wild.

Ms Hartley, 44, from Cambridge, said: “I'm really hopeful that actually we may be able to give her vision, and then, even though she will only be one-eyed, she will be able to be released because primates can still forage one-eyed.

“She's a wild animal that's currently in an enclosure, and that's quite miserable for an animal that's as intelligent as an orangutan.

“It's akin to a human being in a prison cell, and that's her life 24/7 - it's the best that the charity can offer her because it keeps her safe, it keeps her fed.”

In February, a four-man team will fly out from the UK with 265lb of equipment to carry out surgery comparable to a 30-minute cataract operation.

Ms Hartley, who says she will know almost as soon as Aan wakes up from the general anaesthetic if the operation has been a success, said: “I'm fairly certain I can make the eyeball see, but it's whether that will get through to the brain is the crux of it.

“The joy for me is feeling that I can perhaps right a wrong that other humans have done. I can't right it completely but I can give her something back and make it a little bit less bad.

“It's very difficult not to judge people who wilfully go out and hurt another species, especially one that's so closely related to us, so I think that touches on people's heartstrings.”

Bornean orangutans were placed on the IUCN’s critically endangered Red List earlier this year, with numbers down to as few as 56,000 individuals.

shley Leiman OBE, director of the Orangutan Foundation, said the news was "incredibly exciting".

She added: “As a blind orangutan, she was going to spend the rest of her life in a cage.

“If it happens it will be absolutely amazing. She will be able to be released into the wild, she will be able to survive perfectly well with one eye.”



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