Booger, a 2-year-old Gibbon ape from Greenwood, Missouri, had been blind since she was a baby. But veterinarians at Kansas State University have given her sight.
On Thursday, she made a 150-mile trek with her caretaker, Dana Saverelli, for a life-changing cataract surgery at Kansas State's Veterinary Health Center.
Kansas City's KSHB was invited to watch the rare surgery, as Kansas State veterinarian ophthalmologists performed it for the first time.
Booger lives at Monkey Island in Greenwood, Missouri, an animal sanctuary run by Savorelli.
The 2-year-old ape had been blind since she was a baby. Savorelli told KSHB he believes a case of jaundice is to blame for her vision loss.
“Cataracts. She’s got a vision problem because of cataracts in her eyes,” Savorelli said.
Cataract surgery on primates is extremely rare. The surgery is more often performed on dogs or cats, for example.
“We can actually see cataract development specifically when we see Gibbons and non-human primates or exotics taken from their wild habitats and brought into a domesticated habitat,” said Dr. Jessica Meekins, a veterinarian ophthalmologist at Kansas State. Meekins performed the surgery.
"She had gone beyond having a complete cataract to the point where her body was actually starting to react to the cataract and essentially melt it away,” Meekins said.
Booger's eye, according to Meekins, is very similar to a human eye but much smaller.
"I would say [Booger’s] eye itself is, gosh, about half the size of a human eye. That may be even a generous estimation,” Meekins said.
The entire surgery took about two hours, with an hour of prep. Booger was given anesthesia then was wheeled into the operating room.
The surgery is very similar to a cataract surgery on a human. Meekins made an incision in her eye, eventually breaking the cataract and removing the lens from the eye. One eye was operated on at a time.
After a few weeks of recovery, Booger is expected to be able to see.
"She’s going to have more difficulties focusing on objects and things close to her and have better vision when she’s looking into the distance,” said Meekins.
This is not the only unique surgery Kansas State’s Veterinarian Health Center has performed.
Last month, the school implanted a pacemaker into a ferret.
“You never know what is going to come in through the door,” said Dr. James Carpenter, who teaches exotic pet, wildlife and zoological medicine at the university. "As people get more educated and there are more exotic pets out there and people are willing to take the next step in terms of quality of life, there will be other procedures like this that we will be able to do and develop.”
According to Carpenter, there is a growing interest in exotic pets so the demand for such surgeries is increasing.
But the man who has spent his entire life studying and helping exotic animals has a warning.
"Sometimes many people don’t really research their species well. So some people are getting species that are really inappropriate for captivity. Like, we don’t think primates should be held in captivity by private owners,” Carpenter said.
About Gibbon Apes
Gibbons, like Booger, are classified as lesser apes.
They are relatively smaller, slender and more agile than other apes. They have relatively long arms, enabling them to move hand over hand through the branches of trees.
Before surgery, Booger relied on her touch and smell to move around. Now, she will finally be able to see.
"Technology is just wonderful. Veterinarian medicine is just exciting because there are so many things you can do,” Carpenter said.