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Irene Undergoing Eye Procedure Today

This is just the next step in the BioPark’s attempt to correct a loose eye lens.

Oct. 14, 2022 - Irene, the ABQ BioPark’s beloved 55-year-old Asian elephant, is undergoing a special procedure today to help correct an eye condition that is caused naturally by aging. Her left eye lens is luxated, meaning it is loose. This is causing discomfort for Irene and is affecting her vision.

Today’s procedure will involve putting Irene under mild sedation, and manually trying to push her lens back into place. This is just the next step in the BioPark’s attempt to correct the problem. Previously, staff have given Irene eye drops to keep her eye pressure in a normal range, medications to treat the problem, and analgesics to keep her comfortable. Staff also gave Irene a corneal massage to try to correct the misalignment. All of these methods have helped, but ultimately have not solved the problem.

The ABQ BioPark is hopeful that today’s procedure will fix the problem, but if it does not, the next step is surgery. Both today’s procedure and surgery will require anesthesia. Just like with humans, the use of anesthesia comes with some risks in animals. However, the ABQ BioPark is doing everything it can to make the procedures as safe as possible for Irene.

The ABQ BioPark has consulted several experts in addition to its own vet staff, including Irene’s local ophthalmologist, who she has been seeing for over a decade, and an elephant eye expert.

“We’re doing everything we can to help Irene save her sight,” said Amber Alink, assistant curator of elephants at the ABQ BioPark. “It is incredibly important that the ABQ BioPark try to correct the problem so that Irene can see and move around comfortably in her home.”

This is a naturally occurring eye problem caused by aging, and BioPark staff caught it early. Irene might be genetically predisposed to this condition, or it might also be the result of a prior injury in her youth.

Irene is one of four Asian elephants currently living at the ABQ BioPark Zoo. She lives alongside Rosie, Alice and Albert. She was originally rescued from a circus, and has lived at the Zoo for the past 25 years.

The ABQ BioPark will continue to provide updates on Irene’s progress as they become available.

UPDATE: Friday’s sedation went smoothly, and Irene is awake and doing well. We do expect that the next steps will involve surgery on her eye, which will be scheduled in the next few weeks. Irene will continue to be treated with pain medication and antibiotics until the surgery can be performed. We will continue to share Irene's story and post updates as we learn more.