Late this summer, caretakers observed female Asian elephant Asha, 24, demonstrating a “squinty” eye. This is not a common behavior and was initially treated with topical medication by Zoo veterinary staff. When the issue didn’t resolve after the initial round of treatment, teams determined it was time for an examination by an ophthalmologist.
When dealing with animal ocular issues like Asha’s, the Zoo consults Dr. Jonathan Pucket, a full-time veterinary ophthalmologist based in Tulsa. Dr. Pucket’s exam was conducted in late August. He determined that Asha was experiencing a corneal ulcer, likely resulting from a fungus.
During the 25-minute exam, Asha was sedated and standing quietly, her caretakers by her side. Dr. Pucket administered medication via injection to the cornea, the surface of the eye, to treat the infection. She is now fully recovered. Although there is a small scar where the infection was located, her vision is unimpaired and the eye is no longer painful.
The OKC Zoo participates in the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP), developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Asian elephants are endangered and their African counterparts are vulnerable. Currently, the greatest threats to Asian elephants are habitat destruction and human-elephant conflict. About 60 percent of the total human population lives in Asia, and this population has nearly quadrupled in the last century. As human needs increase, more natural land is taken away from Asian elephants in order to build cities, homes, highways, farmland, etc. Habitat destruction is forcing animals, elephants in particular, to come in contact with humans in ways that can cause conflict.
-Dr. Gretchen Cole, associate veterinarian