From: Reuters
Published February 4, 2008 03:01 AM

China surgeon turns cataract skills to cat's eyes

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese surgeon more used to operating on humans has given a rare tiger cub back its sight by removing cataracts caused by inbreeding, state media said on Monday.

The South China tiger, which will be a year old on Friday, had the cataracts removed last week at Nanchang Zoo in the eastern province of Jiangxi, Xinhua news agency said.

"Zoo workers suspected he was unable to see because he often ran into walls and fences and could only sniff for food," it said.

The male cub is one of the country's two surviving South China tigers born through artificial insemination.

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In December, he was diagnosed with congenital cataracts in both eyes, a result of inbreeding.

South China tiger cubs are prone to congenital defects because almost all the 72 tigers bred in captivity nationwide are descended from the six tigers captured in the wild in 1955.

The South China tiger is "critically endangered" with experts putting their number in the wild at fewer than 30. It is believed by many scientists to be "functionally extinct," according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Chinese vets and doctors have reported success in cataract operations on Siberian tigers, but have never operated on a South China tiger.

Zoo managers entrusted a top eye surgeon at a hospital affiliated to Nanchang University with the operation.

"I removed cataracts from thousands of humans, but it was the first time I have operated on a tiger," surgeon Liu Fei was quoted as saying.

(Reporting by Nick Macfie; Editing by Katie Nguyen)

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