About seven months ago, one of CCF’s resident non-releasable cheetahs, Amani, developed a corneal lesion on her right eye: a cloudy area with a white speck barely visible. Initially the condition did not seem to irritate her, and we really could not train a wild cheetah to take eye drops! However, by late January 2013 the eye dramatically worsened, and the lesion progressed into a corneal ulcer. The eye began to tear excessively, and her nictitating membrane (a translucent third eyelid cheetahs have for moisture and protection) was raised, causing her to squint constantly – an indication of eye pain.
Amani thus began a series of anaesthesia. The first was to perform surgery – suturing the nictitating membrane to the inside of the upper eyelid, thus forming a protective layer of tissue over the damaged cornea. The surgery, performed by CCF’s veterinarian, Amelia Zakiewicz, went without complications. Amani was anaesthetised three more times over the next couple months to assess her progress, with the sutures redone each time to allow healing to continue. By the end of February, it was clear that the surgery had not worked. The ulcer was healing too slowly. We did a new procedure, called a conjunctival flap surgery. This two-hour long surgery involved suturing the membrane lining inside of eyelids directly to the cornea. Another eyelid flap was performed to further protect the ulcer and sutures.
On 8 April Amani was again anaesthetised to assess the conjunctival flap surgery. The ulcer had improved, but a prolapse had occurred — the iris had migrated into the ulcer to plug the defect. We were not pleased with this prognosis but monitor how the condition and see how it developed. However, the situation continued to deteriorate and therefore, on 22 April, after further assessment, we decided to remove her right eye, thus reducing her discomfort.
After almost three months, Amani has adapted to seeing with one eye and is capable of focusing on fences, feeding bowls and even meat treats thrown in her general direction. She is one of the best runners in her camp and is still chasing CCF’s feeding vehicle. She does not miss a thing! Amani is completely off all pain-related medications and now receives only a daily Omega-3 capsule. She recovered flawlessly from the surgery; however her eye has taken on the expected sunken appearance. We all wish Amani well, and hope that the coming months will be less problematic for her.