Hercules the golden eagle gets a new look at life

Hercules, a resident of Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo, is likely to regain much of his vision in one eye after Dr. Ron Ofri surgically removes his cataract.

hawk 88 (photo credit: )
hawk 88
(photo credit: )
It was the first time Dr. Ron Ofri surgically removed a cataract from such a patient, but Hercules - a two-and-a-half-year-old golden eagle from Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo - is very likely to regain much of his vision in one eye. As his other eye is blind, the hour-long operation on Monday morning at the Hebrew University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital near Beit Dagan will be enough to help him find his meals. "He'll get by, even with partial vision," Ofri told The Jerusalem Post soon after completing the final sutures on the predator's cornea. The operation will probably not make him an eagle-eyed predator. "It won't give him 6/6 sight, but he can live in his cage. After all, he doesn't have to drive or read a newspaper. If he were totally blind in the wild, he would have no chance to survive." Ofri, a member of the first graduating class of Hebrew University's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, currently specializes in treating animal eyes - whether they belong to a dog, cat, parrot, horse, elephant and now - for the first time - a golden eagle. The eyes of a golden eagle are more than three centimeters in diameter, larger than the human's two-centimeter eyes. The brown-and-grey feathered Hercules, who stands about 70 cm. tall and weighs about five kg., was on his way home to Jerusalem, still asleep from the gas anesthesia, soon after the operation ended. He was unconscious for a total of two hours so that electrical and physical tests could be conducted. "I'm surprised it went so smoothly," said the veterinary ophthalmological surgeon. "We will know in two or three days whether he can see again by observing his behavior, such as by not bumping into the walls of his cage." The zoo's Beverly Burge, an animal expert, will nurse him back to health. Unlike human cataract victims, who usually have a new lens inserted to replace the cloudy one that was removed, Hercules will not get a new plastic one. "There are no artificial lenses for golden eagles, although there are for dogs," said Ofri, who added that someone has devised eyeglasses for dogs in some situations that give them more seeing-eye ability. Neither Ofri nor Biblical Zoo veterinarian Dr. Nili Avni-Magen knows what caused the blindness in the other eye, but it may have been trauma. Hercules was brought to the zoo exactly two years ago when he was saved from Beduins who stole him from his nest in the Judean Desert and tried to raise him for sale to a wealthy aficionado of golden eagles in an Arab country. The golden eagle's feet were attached to chains in a Beduin tent, but the nature reserve inspectors confiscated Hercules, as his species is protected due to its wildness and rarity. Avni-Magen, who observed the surgery, said a golden eagle could live in a zoo for as long as 30 years. "Hercules is very impressive and generally in good condition," said Avni-Magen. "There are only four golden eagles in captivity in Israeli zoos, and in nature they are very rare. We display our predator birds to show zoo visitors how important it is to protect them." If one of a new pair recently confiscated from thieves in Hebron and brought to the Jerusalem zoo is a female, Hercules may soon have a mate. If not, he will have to while his time away flying a bit and eating mice, rats and pieces of raw meat.