Cataracts of rare South China tiger cub removed
NANCHANG, Feb 4 (Bernama) — A South China tiger cub in an east China zoo has regained its eyesight after what is believed to be the first ever cataract removal surgery on the critically-endangered big cat species, Xinhua news agency reported Monday.
The tiger, which is a year old on Friday, had the cataracts removed on Jan 27, said Zhao Wei, a Nanchang Zoo official in Jiangxi Province. The operation lasted an hour.
The male cub, coded 393, is one of the country’s two surviving South China tigers born through artificial insemination. He was born in Shanghai on Feb 8 last year and was sent to Nanchang after six months.
Zoo workers suspected he was unable to see because he often ran into walls and fences and could only sniff for food.
In December, he was diagnosed with congenital cataracts in both eyes, a result of inbreeding.
South China tiger cubs are prone to congenital defects because almost all the 72 tigers bred in captivity nationwide are descended from six tigers captured in the wild in 1955.
“We were very concerned over whether the cub should be operated on at all,” said Zhao, adding “Some zoo workers said the species was too rare to take the risk.”
Chinese vets and doctors have reported success in cataract removals on Siberian tigers, but had never operated on a South China tiger.
Zoo managers finally decided to take the risk, and entrusted a top eye surgeon at a hospital affiliated to Nanchang University for the operation.
“I removed cataracts from thousands of humans, but it was the first time I have operated on a tiger,” said Dr Liu Fei.
“Cats have a third eyelid and their anatomy is quite different from humans,” she said.
She invited the hospital’s best anesthetist, Prof Xu Guohai, to be part of the operating team.
For safety considerations, Xu consulted doctors who had worked on Siberian tigers and giant pandas for advice.
As the sensors on the electrocardiograph for human beings could not penetrate the tiger’s thick fur, Xu had to use his hands and auscultatory devices to monitor the animal’s heart and breathing.
Zoo workers said the cub was recuperating well after the operation. “Apparently he can see several meters and has endeared himself to human beings.”
The South China tiger, also called the Amoy or Xiamen tiger, is thought to be the ancestor of all tigers, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
It is considered critically endangered, mainly due to a loss of habitat. In the early 1950s there were about 4,000 in the wild. By 1996, however, they numbered only 30 to 80, according to the World Conservation Union’s Red List of threatened species.
Today, the tiger is widely believed to be extinct in the wild.
To save the captive tigers from extinction, London-based Save China’s Tigers and Chinese Tigers South Africa signed an accord in 2002 to send between five and 10 South China tigers to South Africa to learn how to survive in the wild.
In November, a cub was born to a South China tiger couple under the training programme in South Africa, the first to be born outside China.
South China tiger became a catchphrase in China last year, after a farmer’s photos of a wild cat in October caused a national controversy.
Zhou Zhenglong, from mountainous Zhenping County in the northwestern Shaanxi Province, presented photos of the tiger he said were taken in the forest near his village.
The local forestry authority said the photos were proof the rare tiger still existed in the wild. But Internet users accused Zhou of making the tiger images with digital software, and local authorities of approving the photographs to bolster tourism.
In December, State Forestry Administration demanded the provincial forestry department have the photo authenticated by a panel of experts, but no results have been published.
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