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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

IAR teams up with ophthalmic vets from the UK to help blind bears in India

Lily underwent cataract surgery to restore her sight (Photo: Roger Allen)A team of ophthalmic veterinary surgeons has just returned from a trip to India to assess and treat blind bears in the IAR-funded sanctuaries managed by Indian NGO Wildlife SOS (WSOS). The Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket allowed three members of their ophthalmic team time out to make the trip which proved of huge benefit both to the bears and to the Indian vets and keepers from WSOS who care for them.

The team was led by Claudia Hartley, Head of Small Animal Ophthalmology at the Trust, who has previously operated successfully on blind bears in China. Accompanying her were AHT colleagues Marian Matas Riera from Majorca and Claudia Busse from Germany. Joining them was Heather Bacon who works jointly for the Animals Asia Foundation and the University of Edinburgh on Veterinary Welfare Education and Outreach.

Marian Matas and Claudia Hartley examine Lily’s eyes under anaestheticThe team took with them almost £100,000 worth of ophthalmic equipment, most of which was kindly loaned by the Animal Health Trust itself. Additional items were generously loaned by ophthalmologists Rob Lowe, who provided a portable operating microscope worth £12,000 and Jim Carter, who supplied a digital fundus camera worth £11,000.

During their two week visit the vets identified a range of problems affecting the bears' vision. Sadly many of the conditions were unsuitable for surgery, originating from years of abuse and malnutrition during their lives on the streets as dancing bears. However, a number of cases were suitable for treatment of one kind or another. One female bear, Lily, underwent cataract surgery and is showing encouraging signs that her vision has been restored.

Other animals that received treatment included Elsa, a relatively young and healthy female bear. She had been bitten on the face by another bear and could easily have lost the sight in one eye. The vets cleaned and tidied the wound and prescribed a course of antibiotics to ward off any infection.

The vets' visit from the UK was warmly welcomed by their Indian counterparts who care for the rescued bears. Dr Arun Sha of WSOS who is Veterinary Director at the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre, said: "It has been a real privilege to observe the ophthalmic team at work and to learn from them how to identify and treat various veterinary conditions before they become too advanced.

IAR's Lis Key gives Lily some honey to hasten her recovery after surgery"Thanks to Claudia and the team we all feel far better equipped to spot the first signs of any changes in the bears' eyes and vision. I'm certain that in future we'll be able to diagnose problems at an early stage and have a much better chance of treating them successfully."

Alan Knight, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said: "I can't thank the vet team enough for being so generous with their time and their expertise during their visit to India. Their support and assistance has been invaluable and we're all hoping it won't be long before they can make a second visit and follow up on some of the cases they treated."

The vets' visit was also made possible thanks to support and cooperation from the Forest Department of Karnataka.