Cape eye specialist to operate on Oudtshoorn cheetah

Yolande Stander

IT is not every day that a wild animal lands up on an eye surgeon's operating table, but for Venus, the beloved Oudtshoorn cheetah, this is about to become a reality in just a few days.

Staff at the Cango Wildlife Ranch have been working around the clock to prepare for the six-year-old cheetah's surgery in Cape Town after they noticed her sight deteriorating.

Ranch spokesman Tammy Moult said late last year staff started to notice that one of the big cat's pupils had started turning "milky".

"We monitored her very closely and saw that her eyes continued to worsen. We then ran some tests," Moult said.

They eliminated serious illnesses like diabetes, and a specialist in Cape Town determined she had bilateral cataracts. "We then ran blood tests to see if her kidney and liver functions were normal as that is a fairly common problem with cheetahs, but everything was fine except for the cataracts."

Moult said not much research had been done on the occurrence of cataracts in big cats, but in the wild they would not survive as it would affect their ability to hunt and protect themselves. "There are cases of cheetahs who have supposedly had successful surgeries. With people and smaller animals it is a common and a largely successful procedure."

Since losing her vision Venus has become "edgy", unsure of her surroundings and scared. "This is one of the main reasons we are doing the surgery – her quality of life is paramount."

Because of her behavioural changes, staff at the ranch have had to take special measures to ensure she has a comfortable environment until her operation. "Venus was moved to a bigger enclosure with more open space so that there are less objects, trees and bushes obstructing her path," Moult said.

She will undergo the surgery at the Cape Animal Eye Hospital in Cape Town next Wednesday, and in the meantime has to be given special medicine prescribed by the eye specialist. "On the day of her surgery, she has to undergo an ultrasound of the globes so they can assess her condition and overall state."

Renowned veterinary opthamologist Dr Anthony Goodhead, who has done this procedure on animals in the past, will do the operation. Total costs will be about R45000.

Moult said if the public wanted to help they could text "Venus" to 38157 to donate R10.