Rare Okapi Calf Gets Surgery to Save Her Eyesight

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Endangered animal is closest relative to giraffe.

A veterinary team has successfully performed a delicate surgery to save the eyesight of a young African animal that looks like a cross between a giraffe and a zebra, the Gainesville Sun reports.

The endangered animal, a 2-month-old okapi calf named Maziwa, is recuperating after having a lesion removed from her cornea six weeks ago. Dr. Caryn Plummer, a University of Florida associate professor of ophthalmology, performed the rare procedure.

The calf was born at the White Oak Conservation Foundation in Yulee, north of Jacksonville near the Georgia state line. At birth she had a condition known as a dermoid, a congenital lesion where normal tissue appears in an abnormal location. Maziwa’s lesion was composed of skin and hair, and the hair rubbing up against the cornea can cause discomfort and damaging scar tissue leading to blindness.

“It’s not super rare, but I’ve never seen one in an exotic hoofstock before,” Plummer told the Sun. “The circumstances around being able to do the surgery and make sure that the calf did well are a little more challenging.”

Putting the calf, just three weeks old at the time, under general anesthesia and separating and re-introducing the calf to its mother carried risks; the mother might have rejected her.

Plummer had to remove the lesion from the calf’s cornea, a surface area less than a millimeter thick.

“It requires quite a great degree of precision to remove the lesion that’s on top of it without puncturing, perforating or compromising the cornea and the globe,” Plummer said.

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