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Surgery allows blind orangutan to see her babies

Primate was captured for her own safety in late 2008 in North Sumatra province

Image Credit: EPA
Blind female Sumatran orangutan Gober taking care of her 18- month-old twins, Ginting and Ganteng, at the quarantinecentre run by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme in Batu Mbelin, North Sumatra.
Gulf News

Jakarta: A formerly blind Sumatran orangutan can see her baby twins for the first time after undergoing cataract surgery in the first such operation in Indonesia.

The orangutan, named Gober, was captured for her own safety in late 2008 in North Sumatra province after she went blind in both eyes due to cataracts. She gave birth to the twins in early 2011 as part of a breeding programme.

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-Dr Sarasqati | 
Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme
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Doctors at the Sumatran Orang-utan Conservation Programme (SOCP) in the provincial capital of Medan performed the cataract surgery on the 40-year-old animal on Monday. They announced the successful results late Thursday.

Prior to her surgery on Monday afternoon, Gober, a 40-year-old orangutan, had spent at least the last four years blind due to cataracts leading to her capture in North Sumatra province in late 2008 by the SOCP.

“If we hadn’t brought her here she would have been killed by local farmers, as she was raiding their crops to survive,” SOCP veterinarian Dr Yenny Sarasqati said.

Performed in the provincial capital of Medan, the 90-minute cataract surgery conducted by a human eye specialist from Samarinda was Indonesia’s first on an orangutan. Doctors first performed cataract surgery on an orangutan in Malaysia in 2007.

While in captivity, to help ease her life in darkness, the conservation programme allowed her to breed with another orang-utan named Leuser, who as it happened, is also blind.

“[We] felt that being blind, it would dramatically improve her quality of life,” said Sarasqati of their decision which she admitted was rare being that there are already many orangutans in captivity in Indonesia.

Coming out of surgery last week Gober returned to the responsibilities of mum to the now 18-month-old twins named Ganteng — a boy whose name means handsome in Indonesian — and Ginting — a little girl.

The programme said that twin births by orang-utans are not unheard of, though coming from two blind parents — in the words of Dr Ian Singleton, head of SOCP — it was “totally unique”.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that we were finally able to do this for Gober. We had to wait until the twins were big enough to be separated briefly from their mum but now that we have done it, all being well it will change each of their lives,” said Sarasqati.

Remarkably what else awaited Gober’s eyes for the first time, was the twins’ father.

Leuser, who became a father to the twins in January of 2011 as part of a breeding programme, is tragically also blind, having been the victim of an air rifle attack several years ago after a failed attempt at being reintroduced into the wild, the SOCP reports.

Leuser was shot 62 times by villagers before he was found by the programme’s veterinarians with two pellets lodged into one of his eyes and one in another.

A shocking x-ray of Leuser’s injuries released by the programme show the trauma his body took.

After twice released from captivity prior to the air rifle attack — in hopes of his successful adaption into the wild — Leuser will be a permanent resident with the SOCP, along with Gober. Their babies, once fully grown, however, will be released into the wild the program reports.

Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, with only about 6,600 left in the wild.


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