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Isle of Wight Zoo,Yaverland Seafront
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Zena's Operation

Adopt Zena...

We've had a nerve-wracking few days at the zoo as we waited for white tiger Zena to have a potentially life-changing operation.

Zena has had eye problems for many years now, and in 2006 her carers made the difficult decision to have one of her eyes removed. Glaucoma was causing Zena so much pain it was affecting her quality of life, and in the time following the operation she became noticeably happier.

Sadly, Zena's remaining eye had a cataract, and when the eye specialist visited in October he broke the bad Zoo CEO Charlotte checks on Zenanews that Zena had very limited daytime vision. The good news was that the type of cataract she had was one that could be operated on with minimal invasion; he could suck it out. The decision to go ahead with surgery was not an easy one, as surgery is never without risk, Zena is not a young tiger. However, her carers decided that the operation offered such a good chance at a better quality of life that it should go ahead.

On the 21st November Rob Lowe, the eye specialist, carried out the surgery, which was so delicate he needed a microscope to perform it. Everyone in the room was under very strict orders not to jog the table!

Of course, it is very important in situations like this to minimise the stress the animal experiences. One of the great things about having our own zoo vet is that he has been able to help with animal training. Matt and the keepers have been working with Zena to train her to lie next to the fence and allow him to examine her. This proved to be extremely valuable because when the time came for her operation Zena happily lay down next to Matt, allowing him to inject her by hand. This was much less stressful for her than using a dart gun, and she didn't even seem to notice the injection. This was not only kinder to her, it was also healthier, as it meant Matt needed to use less anaesthetic in his initial dose because she wasn't angrily fighting it.

On Thursday 24th November Zena was able to rejoin her sister Zia in their enclosure. We all watched her very carefully, and her carers were thrilled to see her reacting to visual cues rather than finding her way around by touch. Zena's vision isn't perfect - she will remain somewhat long-sighted - but it looks as if the operation has made a big difference to her sight.

Thanks very much to the veterinary team!


Adopt Zena...


White tigers are not a separate species or subspecies of tiger, but are usually Indian hybrids. Unfortunately, inbreeding has often occurred, when humans have deliberately bred them to be white. This has left them prone to a number of health problems and sadly Zena’s story is not unique. Zena has never been part of a breeding programme; instead she acts as an ambassador for tiger conservation.