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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK
Surgeon gives sight to gorilla
Gorilla
Romina reached for food after the operation
A surgeon has carried out a pioneering operation to restore the sight of a gorilla who was born blind.

Romina, a lowland gorilla at Bristol Zoo Gardens, had congenital cataracts - cloudy lenses - in both eyes.

Jenny Watts, an ophthalmic surgeon from Winchester General Hospital, removed one and replaced it with an artificial silicone lens.

The two-hour operation was the first cataract surgery performed on an adult gorilla in Europe.

Romina the gorilla
Romina was sedated during the operation

During the procedure, Romina was sedated and laid out on two operating tables in the veterinary department at the University of Bristol.

Sharon Redrobe, Bristol Zoo Gardens' head of veterinary services, said: "As soon as Romina came round from the operation we could tell that she could see.

"She immediately reached towards food without resorting to feeling her way.

"We're delighted that the operation has been so successful and that she is having the chance to explore her surroundings and companions properly for the first time."

Artificial lens

Ms Watts was assisted by two animal specialists, David Gould, an expert on cataracts in cats and dogs, and Dan Holden, a veterinary anaesthetist.

The operation involved the same procedure that was used to remove a cataract from the late Queen Mother's left eye at London's King Edward VII hospital in July 1995.

An incision was made through the cornea and ultrasound used to break up the cataract.

The debris was removed, and a silicone artificial lens inserted.

Whether Romina's operation is ultimately successful will not be known for another four to seven days.

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The BBC's Tom Heap
"Behaving like a great ape now seems to come naturally"

Click here to go to Bristol
See also:

27 Feb 02 | England
Jock the gorilla meets the girls
25 Jan 02 | England
Zoo joins anti-bushmeat campaign
03 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Space age plan to save gorillas
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