Irene the elephant is recovering from eye surgery


ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (KRQE) – Some encouraging news about Irene the elephant who underwent surgery last week to remove her eye. It was risky and the herd suffered devastating losses in recent years. Those at the zoo think that with this operation, she will be much more comfortable in her golden years.

Irene, the beloved Asian elephant is back with her herd at BioPark Albuquerque after an unusual operation to remove her left eye. It was a big undertaking for a big animal.

“There were almost 50 people involved in his operation and it involved meetings, weeks in advance. The elephant caregivers trained her to lie down with her left eye up, so that she was in position for the operation,” says BioPark Senior Veterinarian Dr Carol Bradford.

Irene suffered from crystalline lens dislocation, where the lens of the eye comes off. When the decision to remove his eye was made, his team knew it would be a challenge. After all, they are dealing with a 7,500 pound elephant.

“We had three different fire crews here who had just completed training in large animal rescue. So we brought them in because they know how to move large objects and do it safely,” says Dr Bradford.

The zoo says more than 50 people were needed to perform the operation, including the anesthesia team, ophthalmology team and fire crews.

The procedure took over two hours and required Irene to be under general anesthesia, which can be risky, especially with her age. At 55, Irene has already exceeded the average lifespan of an Asian elephant in US zoos, which is normally 49 years, but Irene is known to be a survivor.

Irene’s surgery comes nearly a year after two other elephants in the herd, Thorn and Jazmine, died of the EEHV virus. Their sister Daizy died of the virus in 2015.

Visitors and staff members are happy to hear that Irène is recovering. “It’s a great feeling, really. We’ve had some bad luck in the past, but it’s been great,” says Ron Thompson, BioPark Ambassador.

“It makes me feel good, she’s just doing wonderfully well and it’s really good. I always feel good when the animals are happy and enjoying their lives,” says Maureen Maher, a zoo volunteer.

“The number of people and the amount of care, and the absolute dedication of the BioPark staff, as well as our consultants, really touches me,” says BioPark Senior Veterinarian Dr. Carol Bradford.

Zookeepers say Irene is closely monitored and checked daily by zoo veterinarians. So far, she has had no complications from the operation.

Irene arrived at BioPark 25 years ago after being rescued from a traveling circus that stopped in Albuquerque. She is known as Aunt Irene in the herd.

Alice is the grandmother. Rosie is the girl, whose 30th birthday arrived today. You also have Albert the male.

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