ABQ BioPark elephant may need eye surgery

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – One ABQ BioPark animal is now feeling the effects of old age. 

If you’ve been to the zoo in the last two decades then chances are you’ve seen Irene. She’s one of the Asian elephants and a long-time resident. 

“It is a little bit unusual. The average lifespan of an Asian elephant in ACA institutions is 49 years. So at 55 she’s past her ‘expected lifespan,’ and she is considered geriatric,” said Dr. Carol Bradford, a senior veterinarian at the BioPark.

Bradford said Irene is starting to feel her age and it’s beginning with her eyes.

“She’s had what’s called a luxated lens. So the lens of the eye sits basically in the center of the eye, and what it does is help to focus the image to the back of the eye to the retina. And then in Irene’s case many years ago, 10 years ago, the lens fell towards the back of the eye,” explained Bradford. “In August of this year, the lens shifted.”

She says this is a naturally occurring eye issue that does impact Irene’s vision. 

“Unfortunately, the eye is looking worse – she developed glaucoma, as well as an ulcer in the cornea. So we’re treating for that, but there’s concern that we’ll probably need to take her to surgery,” Bradford said following a checkup last week. 

Eye drops and medication do the trick to ease the pain, but more drastic measures may have to be taken.

“Our main goal for Irene, long term, is her comfort, and if removing the eye is the best way to make her comfortable, that’s certainly an option for us. Of course, it’s very emotional when you talk about something like that,” said Bradford.  

The surgery – if needed –  is scheduled for early November. 

Bradford said it’s all part of helping Irene live out her golden years in comfort.

This comes after a rough couple of years for the zoo. The zoo’s two youngest elephants Thorn and Jazmine both died right around the New Year when a dormant herpes virus – found in all elephants – activated and turned deadly for both. 

Bradford told KOB 4 they’ve seen no sign of the viral illness threatening the rest of the herd. 

“Our other elephants, Rozie, Irene, Alice, and Albert are doing great,” she said. 

The zoo also lost five apes over the past two years due to an outbreak of the Shigella bacteria. 

Zoo officials say they are doing what they can to keep animals healthy and avoid future outbreaks. 

In July, the zoo vaccinated its most vulnerable animals against COVID-19. 

Birds have also been taken off exhibit twice this year to protect them from an outbreak of avian flu. The birds were first moved inside in April, but officials moved them indoors again just this month after a positive case was detected in Bernalillo County. 

“What we’re trying to do is minimize any exposure to wild birds and dropping of wild birds,” said zoo officials. 

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