A Stunning Bird with a Stunning Surgery

Written by Dr. Lauren Smith, Veterinarian

If you’ve seen our Bird of Prey show at the Zoo, chances are you saw one of our shining stars - a red-legged seriema named Elton. He shows off the unique way he stuns his prey by using his beak to repeatedly slam prey items like small snakes on the ground. Don’t let the wispy beautiful feathers, long red legs and eyelashes of a seriema fool you - these stunning birds are effective predators!

As you can imagine, quick reaction time and visual acuity are essential for Elton’s daily life. The animal care team noticed his right eye appearing red and swollen, they also noticed he would misstep when walking to his habitat. The animal care team quickly notified the veterinary team to assist, both teams work hand-in-hand to give the best care to animals.

As part of the veterinary team at ZooTampa, it is our responsibility to work with the animal care team to examine animals for any health concerns. During our initial examination, we found that Elton had a maturing cataract of the right eye that affected his vision. Just like humans, animalsare also at risk for cataract formation which affects their vision and ability to carry out daily tasks. Fortunately for us, we knew of options to best help Elton recover.

We contacted Dr. Tammy Miller Michau of BluePearl Veterinary Specialists for a consultation. Dr. Miller Michau is a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist with specialized equipment to perform this surgery. After several evaluations and discussions with the animal care team, we agreed that cataract removal surgery was the best option for Elton. There were a few things to consider before performing surgery in a case like Elton’s:

  • The unique anatomy of the avian eye
  • The ability to properly administer eye drops post-operatively
  • Keeping Elton’s stress level down before, during, and after the procedure

A big part of my job as the Veterinarian is to make a diagnosis, evaluate the options and risks, make recommendations based on what we know, and compose a plan to address all of the above. Following a positive health assessment, the veterinary and animal care team worked to outline the plan before, during, and following Elton’s surgery.

A Stunning Bird with a Stunning Surgery - ZooTampa at Lowry Park

In June, Elton was taken to BluePearl Veterinary Specialists for surgery. The ZooTampa veterinary team safely anesthetized and prepared Elton for Dr. Miller Michau to operate on his eye. Imagine the skill and precision required to make a tiny ocular incision through a microscope! Ryan, a veterinary technician with ZooTampa, and I focused on Elton’s anesthesia and vitals, while Dr. Miller Michau removed the cataract and sutured the eye closed.

Dr. Miller Michau informed us of potential risk, including infection and/or dehiscence (break down) of the sutures. It was important that just as much care went into recovery as it did during the surgery itself. Over the next few days, the animal care team worked closely with the veterinary team to ensure Elton received his eye drops for his eye to heal properly. Within two to three days, we could already tell that his vision improved on the right side and he was much more responsive when approached on his “blind side.”

One week later, Dr. Miller Michau returned to ZooTampa for follow up. Post-operative medicine compliance had been going well, and we hoped the hard work would pay off.  As Dr. Miller Michau evaluated Elton’s eye, we were elated to hear her say, “This looks amazing! And so clean!” She checked his eye pressure and performed a stain test to rule out any corneal ulceration - all clear!

We are currently in the final phases of Elton’s recovery and he continues to do fantastically. He is due for another check up with Dr. Miller Michau with the hope of being fully healed.  Once his eye doctor gives him the go ahead, Elton will be back to being an absolutely stunning bird!

A Stunning Bird with a Stunning Surgery - ZooTampa at Lowry Park
A Stunning Bird with a Stunning Surgery - ZooTampa at Lowry Park