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UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science assists chimpanzee sanctuary in the DRC

Posted on March 06, 2019

Already credited with performing the world´s first ever cataract surgery on an orangutan in 2007 in Borneo, specialist veterinary ophthalmologist Dr Izak Venter, accompanied by Dr Keri-Lee Dobbie, an MMedVet postgraduate student in ophthalmology recently travelled to the DRC to assist the JACK Sanctuary for chimpanzees.

Dr Venter, also senior lecturer and contractor to the Department of Companion Animal Clinical Studies of the Faculty of Veterinary Science and Dr Dobbie, postgraduate student in the same Department travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in February 2019, after being invited by the JACK Sanctuary in Lubumbashi to evaluate one of their resident chimpanzees. JACK (Jeunes Animaux Confisques Au Katanga) is home to confiscated chimpanzees that were orphaned due to habitat destruction, disease and poaching for bush meat and the illegal pet trade. JACK was founded and is run by primate lovers Franck and Roxane Chantereau, and is a member of PASA (the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance). JACK has achieved amazing feats in its 13 years of operation – not only does it provide a home to 35 orphaned chimpanzees but it has also managed to stop virtually all illegal trade of apes through Lubumbashi, the second biggest city in the DRC (which, being so far south is the gateway to Zambia, South Africa and the international illegal pet trade market).

JACK had reached out to the Faculty in 2018 regarding Doguy, a 13-year-old male chimpanzee who had only one remaining eye and this eye appeared to be uncomfortable and there was concern regarding vision loss and possible cataract formation. Dr Venter is credited with performing the world´s first ever cataract surgery on an orangutan in 2007 in Borneo. Dr Dobbie is currently doing her Master of Veterinary Medicine research dissertation on ophthalmic findings in chimpanzees. After some delays regarding visas and political instability and unrest, Drs Venter & Dobbie finally arrived (with lots of specialist ophthalmic equipment in tow!) in the DRC to examine Doguy.

On introduction, Doguy was noted to have good visual acuity – he could reach out for individual peanuts with great accuracy despite not having stereopsis (depth perception), due to having only one eye (his right eye had been previously enucleated a number of years ago). The following day Doguy was immobilized and placed under general anaesthesia to facilitate a complete ophthalmic examination. The examination took place at the Lubumbashi Zoo veterinary clinic and Drs Venter & Dobbie were joined by Congolese veterinary colleagues as well as the medical ophthalmologist who had previously examined and treated Doguy. Upon examination, Doguy was diagnosed with mild, likely non-progressive, post-traumatic corneal degeneration in the left eye. There were no signs of lens opacity (cataract), nor any signs of uveitis (ocular inflammation). Doguy´s retinal function was also tested and found to be normal. This was wonderful news and very comforting for Roxane & Franck to finally have a definitive diagnosis and good prognosis for vision and ocular comfort for Doguy.

We feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to help such an incredible and endangered animal and are humbled by the incredible commitment, dedication and hard work that Franck & Roxane put into keeping the sanctuary running each and every day. JACK is an independent self-funded NGO in Lubumbashi, DRC that is in need of your support. For more information click on http://www.jacksanctuary.org/ 

- Author Dr K-L Dobbie /CvB

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