Golden lion tamarin undergoes cataract surgery


The Akron Zoo recently performed cataract surgery on their female golden lion tamarin, Ana. The zoo partnered with Clear Choice Laser Center, Cleveland Eye Clinic and Great Lakes Veterinary Specialists to perform the surgery. Golden lion tamarins are small primates that are endangered.   

"A few months ago, zoo keepers noticed that Ana was having some difficulties getting around her exhibit,” said Dr. Brittany Rizzo, veterinarian at the Akron Zoo. “After performing a vet exam, it was determined Ana had developed cataracts.”

Ana was moved to an off-exhibit area that included a net to make the area safe for her to move around. Keepers trained Ana to rely on her other senses, like hearing and touch, to find her food, water and nest box. 

Staff at the Akron Zoo partnered with Dr. William Wiley, medical director of Clear Choice Laser Surgery and the Cleveland Eye Clinic, and Dr. Emily Conway, veterinary ophthalmologist at Great Lakes Veterinary Specialists and their staff to perform laser eye surgery to remove Ana’s cataracts. 

“Cataract surgery has been performed on various non-human primates before, but to the best of our knowledge, it has never been performed on a primate with a similar size of a golden lion tamarin,” said Dr. Conway.

“Because of Ana’s size – Ana weighs in at approx. 1.25 pounds – we had some challenges to overcome,” said Dr. Wiley. “We used some of our micro-instruments for the surgery, and even had to fashion new instruments to fit in her eyes. While tamarin eyes have similar anatomy of humans, it took more care and precision working on a much smaller scale with Ana.”

The surgery, which took place on June 3, was a success. Veterinary staff at the zoo will continue to treat Ana with eye drops, antibiotics and pain medications and keep a close watch on her. Ana will remain off-exhibit as she recovers over the next few weeks. Her brother, Rio, remains on exhibit daily in the rainforest exhibit in Komodo Kingdom.    

Ana turned 13 years old on June 4 and she has been at the Akron Zoo since 2008. She was born at the Woodland Park Zoo. 

Golden lion tamarins are endangered in the wild due to deforestation. They are indigenous to South America. The Akron Zoo participates in the golden lion tamarin Species Survival Plan (SSP) program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). AZA-accredited institutions have an ethical responsibility to ensure the well-being of the animals in their care. In addition, AZA-accredited institutions have a scientific responsibility to gain a greater understanding of the well-being of the animals in their care by advancing animal welfare science. This unique surgery, and Ana’s case study will be recorded and shared to add to the growing body of animal welfare science and the husbandry of this critically endangered species in human care.