Vets perform cataract surgery to save penguin’s sight at Chester Zoo

Munch, a 4-year-old Humboldt penguin, began behaving oddly at the Chester Zoo.

He was tripping. He couldn’t find fish in his pool. His swimming was slowing down. He was simply struggling to feed himself. All of it was strange for a penguin, especially one so young.

Vets discovered severely deteriorating eyesight caused by cataracts, leaving Munch with little vision in his left eye and none in his right.

“If a penguin can’t catch a fish then you know something is amiss,” zookeeper Sophie Bissaker said in a recent statement. “He did though, develop a clever little habit of pulling at my trouser leg to let me know that he hadn’t been able to get any fish, and this gave us an opportunity for closer inspection.”

Munch had severe cataracts. Photo: Chester Zoo

That’s when zoo vets and experts hatched a plan to save his sight.

Veterinary ophthalmologist, Iona Mathiesonsaid this was the first penguin she operated on in 24 years in the field, but she had high hopes.

It was a very unique surgery for a penguin. Photo: Chester Zoo

“I had researched penguin cataract surgery and the success rates were good, so we were confident that we could give Munch back his sight,” she said.

It was a delicate procedure. Photo: Chester Zoo

And that’s exactly what happened.

The surgery was a success.

Eye Vet donated equipment and other companies manufactured equipment very specific to Munch’s needs to carry out the procedure, the zoo explained.

Munch was the first penguin to undergo cataract surgery at Chester Zoo. Photo: Chester Zoo

After the procedure, Munch was kept away from the main penguin pool. At first, he recovered in the nursery pool and was soon joined by his life partner, Whurly.

“I think it was a huge comfort for Munch to know that he wasn’t going through it alone and had his partner by his side,” Bissaker added. “Munch really dotes on Whurly. Wherever she goes, he follows, so I’m sure it provided some much needed comfort. The pair are inseparable and had even their first chick, Leek, in 2019 – they’re a real tight family unit.”

They’re even incubating eggs now.

Munch is now a much happier penguin. Photo: Chester Zoo

The successful procedure saved Munch’s sight, life and was a real morale boost for everyone at Chester Zoo.

Munch is still getting eye drops but he’s on the mend.

“He’s already swimming through the water faster, feeding with the group and waddling around his home with ease,” Bissaker added. “He’s a confident, happy little guy and a real fighter – which considering all he’s been through, is pretty amazing.”

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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