Tag Archives: Cataract

The future of Rosy’s eyes

On the 25th Sept 2008, I woke up early and started the process of packing Rosy and Girl’s stuff into the car. At 8am, Mwanzia, Jonathan and I walked into the shed to catch Girl. She leapt from perch to perch frightened. Only 3 days previously she had escaped through the roof, bored and unhappy at being alone without Rosy. Luckily we were all outside at the time and we were able to drive after her. Weak with so little stamina from being cooped up in a small shed she was not fit enough to fly away. The small shed is twice the size of most exercise sheds in rehab centres, but still far too small to allow much muscle tone. Once she was trained and relatively tame and very fit. But these days she is wild. Now you have to catch her and that can be dangerous.

When she landed on the ground, we cornered her and threw a blanket over her head. I then injected her with Rompun, a very strong sedative. In 2 minutes we expected her to calm down and doze off. Half an hour later she was as vigorous as ever, and in a bad mood. I then entered alone and repeated the process. Another half hour past and I could not believe she was that strong. She weighs nearly twice as much as Rosy at some 12lbs. Finally, now late to get on the road, I used another drug on her and she went to sleep. Quickly I got Rosy in the far back, Mwanzia and Girl in the back seat and tore off for a tough 4.5 hour drive to Naivasha, dodging truculent traffic police waving us down on the road, and endless potholes. Three quarters of the way there, Girl woke up enough to throw Mwanzia around the back of the car. One foot in his chest and it would be all over for him, but her feet were like a puppies, incapable of gripping anything.

At Sarah Higgin’s house at Naivasha, we arrived frayed and exhausted. Rosy had behaved very well, although in thick traffic passing Matatus with loud ‘music’ blaring out, he did get nervous and try to struggle free. Blind but strong he sat it out patiently.

Immediately Sarah, Mike and I with a small entourage took the eagles down to the shed. Just finished and looking very fine under the shade of large yellow fever trees. We took the opportunity to get pictures of Sarah holding Girl, still a bit dozy from the drugs. We released her in familiar surroundings. The shed looked just like the old breeding shed in which she had been calm enough to raise families. Only the view outside was different. Not that much different, it has a sweeping view of wildebeest and giraffe too.
In 10 minutes I explained to Sarah the drugs, and the order in which they should be used. There really isn’t a strict order of use. You have some to lower the eye pressure, some to keep infection away and another to expand the pupil, one to inhibit protein. It started to rain, and I did not have headlights for the car, so I was on my way back in a very short time. I was, as can be imagined, very confused. This was the first time I had ever left Rosy or Girl in someone else’s care. Arriving home at dark with no headlights, I had 12 hrs to pack before leaving for UK and Ireland. I would be back in just over one week, and was grateful that I had these as a distraction.

Meanwhile the question remains as to whether or not Rosy will ever see. I have over the last few weeks accepted that he might not, and I haven’t considered putting him down. I sought confirmation in this from others as would most in my position. It is a weak thing to do. A few I had talked to did not understand why I would bother suggesting that he be kept alive when blind. I remembered an old colleague of mine who had a blind Red tailed Hawk, which he would show people and educate kids and appear on TV. He went on to do great things, and the hawk led some sort of valued life too. Mwanzia and Jonathan referred to Rosy and Samson. He is blind yet terribly powerful. When I last saw him in a shed with Sarah and others standing before him. He stood on one leg, preened and stared about him. Had he been sighted one or more of us would have been immediately hospitalized. But he had won over everyone there. Mwanzia has stayed on to be his minder. In that group the question of putting him down would not arise. Rosy was as alert and independent as most pets, and certainly better able to defend himself than almost all.

Sarah sent some pictures of the eyes to Dan Gradin and I read his comment back, thousands of miles away in a little upstairs room in my sister’s house in Canterbury. It was a very unfamiliar environment for me, and Rosy did not seem far away at all. Dan’s response was that he was surprised that Rosy could not see a thing despite the current condition of the eyes. Perhaps there was more damage; perhaps the retina was damaged too. I like to doubt this as I saw he had a good pupil reflex before and just after surgery. But he will have to be checked soon for this.

If Rosy requires it, additional surgery to remove the fibrin coat is possible. I am sure everyone agrees. If as it may turn out he needs a fresh new lens in each eye, then this too could be considered. At no point has he shown any sign of depression. If we have the technology to make him see, then we should try everything possible to make this happen. But I am now not his keeper and these options depend very much on just how long it will take for him to recover.
Laila and I hope to see Rosy and Girl as soon as we get back. Sarah and Mike have been incredibly hospitable, realizing the problem, and coming to the rescue of us all.

Rosy’s return home

I wish that I could report a miraculous recovery. But it is not so. There remains the agonizing uncertainty and he has a long way to go before the eyes clear up.
I had remained in Nairobi at the Cockar’s house on Sunday morning and this allowed Drs Barry Cockar, Dan Gardin and Nonee Magre to check on him. Putting the eye drops and drugs into his eyes was easy. What was noticeable was the extensive cloudiness of the cornea and general disruption of the anterior portion of the eye (That which is forward of the Iris). His eye pressure was slightly high in one eye and twice as high as it should be in the other. Unpredictably the eye that took nearly three times longer than the eye in which the Phaco was used was the better one.

The drive home was not that bad as it was a Sunday. Nevertheless a good portion of it is off road driving behind very dusty trucks. Rosy hung onto the front seat and did his best to stay upright. But the experience is not good for a sick patient with very sensitive eyes. I hate this road, as it has not helped in getting animals to and from treatment for the last 4 years. We arrived home and he had a quite warm day being left out on his perch. He is surrounded by familiar sounds and evidently this settled him. That night, he did react to a hand being moved in front of him. He was able to track me as I walked by him a meter away. I was euphoric.

Rosy on his perch

On the Monday, I had hoped he would be better, but he was much the same. I stayed with him most of the day. Giving drugs to him now was a different story. Although quiet on his perch, the moment I start to attempt to apply a greasy ointment his head jerked back, and it all went across his face….not on his eye. Worse the process was in danger of injuring him. So I had to ask for Mwanzia and Jonathan to assist. The brute force way is very upsetting to him, and I have to weigh up the benefits as opposed to the trauma sustained in the struggle. I wish there was an easier way. Applying the drugs 8-10 times a day makes pulling the sheds down and sending the materials for construction at Naivasha a tough task. Sarah Higgins, the new “owner” of Rosy and Girl desperately needs to know the outcome of Rosy’s progress, as the cost of building the new breeding shed is a huge factor to us. If Rosy cannot see, then there is no point in building the new shed and Girl his wife should be released, despite her age. Rosy would then spend the rest of his life in a smaller shed. His life would not be that bad, but it would be a sad thing to accept after all this effort.

Concurrent to this, I am moving all my furniture and equipment, closing down the house, releasing Tim the Lanner, working on setting up a Lammergeyer release, getting car log books sorted, getting a visa, fixing a broken car, and outfitting for a year safari around Africa. All must be near complete by the end of this week!!

Email and communication via the cell phone came to a halt on Monday. Nonee was driving all the way out from Nairobi to check on his eye pressure, and so I stayed at home. It turned out that her car too broke down, and she had to post-pone the appointment to Tuesday. I was so overwhelmed on Monday that I gave up on all else and focused only on Rosy. I think I am trying to do too much.
On Monday, he was uninterested in a dead rabbit I gave him. Even if totally blind he would happily eat a rabbit, but not now. As it was attracting flies I took it away and force fed him by pushing food down his throat. He was very angry.

In the afternoon he was able to feed on the rabbit alone. But a measure of just how blind he is was gained by looking at the pair of cheeky Slender tail mongooses that live in the rock pile in the garden. They came out and fed on the rabbit within 2 feet of him. Had he seen them, or even registered a blur, he would have done something about it.

I resorted to using the camera to take pictures of what looks like a protruding transparent globe that is emerging from the pupil. The photograph clearly shows this to be true in his right eye. The mass seems to distort the pupil too. The other eye there is a cloudy mass that lies just forward of the pupil. The distinct boundary of the “bubble” in that eye is not so clear. The cornea itself seems to be less cloudy. The eye diameter seems larger, and it looks like it is bulging slightly. The intraocular pressure could explain this although I am giving the special eye drops to reduce this pressure. Nevertheless the protrusion is not as bad as it was. I feel that there is post operative reaction in the eye, with a confusion of anterior and posterior eye pressure, and perhaps some damage to the retina following high intraocular pressure.

Rosy’s right eye

Dan phoned me on Monday and felt confident that this globular protrusion was fairly normal, but he would like to see it for himself. I include the picture here so that I can refer the doctors and specialist such as Dr Dan Gradin to it. (Another use for this blog!)
Today (Tuesday) Nonee drove all the way out to take his eye pressure. It is within limits. But she too noticed this strange protrusion and after conferring with Drs Dan Gradin and Barry Cockar, believed it was likely to be a result of fibrin coagulating. There are drugs that will help lessen this, which I shall get tomorrow. But Nonee was also disappointed in the lack of vision. We went over the procedure again and lamented the lack of equipment that would have allowed us to get a perfect dimension of the lens. But right now the lens is not the issue, it is the material that is being produced by the eye that is disturbing the visual pathway. Time will tell.

Laila and Paula have both asked that I keep the news updates going each day. I suspect Rosy’s progress will be slow, and I cannot think of too much to say. Paula said that I should be brave in asking for donations to continue. While we are all very grateful for the donation money received to cover the cost of the surgery, there are still outstanding settlements to cover costs of equipment and services. In addition comes the reality that Rosy’s post operative care and the building of their new shed will amount to at least some $3-4000, of which I would greatly appreciate any help. It was precisely these sorts of costs incurred during my latter tenure as a raptor rehabilitator that I failed to meet and obliged me to close down.

Rosy’s trip to the eye hospital

Rosy’s Cataract Operation – Chapter 4

This morning, I left the house with Rosy at 7.30AM and arrived at the Kikuyu Eye Hospital at 11.50AM. It is a distance of only 65 Km took over 4hrs. The street hawkers enquired how he was, having remembered him from last week. I made a wise choice in not sedating him with valium as he could easily have died of heat stroke had he not been able to stand and pant.


Kikuyu Eye Hospital is one of the busiest units in Africa. Dr Nonee Magre met us in the car park and we were shown round the back where we met Dr Tony Walia. We anaesthetized Rosy, using about 1/3rd the recommended dose which put him under sufficient for two instruments to be placed on his eyeball by he and his team.

Nonee Magre

The first is termed a kerato-metre, its task is to measure the curvature of the cornea. It was working fine, but it could not get data on so large an eye. The other instrument looked like a laser pointer used at lectures, but for it having a huge machine attached to it. It measured the diopter size, the depth of the lens and the diameter. One eye was 10.5mm and the other was 12mm. Twice the size of a human’s. Dr Walia showed us a human lens (it cost $4!). It has two curled spines that keep the lens in the exact place.


I opted to drive home while Rosy was still groggy. He lay near the gear stick and every now and then I was able to check on his breathing. The dosage rates suggested by literature are about two to four times more than is necessary. Fortunately we were conservative and his recovery was slow but sure. In the late afternoon I sat with him till he got better. He spent the evening in my room.

Back Home

Now comes the hard part. These measurements must be sent to USA to have the lens made. In the next few days, Dr Nonee and I will try to pin down the companies and get this complete. It hasn’t been easy so far, so wish us luck.

Rosy’s trip to Nairobi

Rosy’s trip to Nairobi. Chapter 4

This morning, I took Rosy to Nairobi to meet up with Dr Nonee Magre before going on to see Dr Tony Walia, an eye surgeon from Kikuyu Eye Hospital. The drive in took 3 hrs. Rosy was very hot and stressed, sitting hooded on a blanket-covered spare wheel in the back of the car. Although it is an acknowledged fact that the Mombasa road is a total mess, the bouncing and flapping of Rosy in the back seemed to reinforce just how terrible it truly is. Stuck in standstill traffic for half an hour surrounded by amazed on-lookers and street hawkers (selling maps, dubious DVDs, awful sentimental paintings, toy helicopters, sun glasses, and a thing that sheds cabbage), I managed to calm a hot temper by answering questions, some of which were fairly well informed.

Stuck in the traffic, I opened my emails on my cell phone. Laila told me that donations were coming in for Rosy! I have yet to see the blog or know what is going on, but thank those who are helping. More than anything, it is great to see that people care about an eagle.

Outside of his breeding shed, and away from his mate for the first time in years, he tried to gather his hurt pride. He squeezed my glove hard and his talons went right through 3 layers of saddle hide leather! Girl, his mate, kept calling every ten minutes. Rosy would call back. The territory call of a Crowned Eagle is melodic and wild. Here, confined by jesses and tied to a block and blind, it was upsetting to see. But it does mean he has every wish to hold onto to his title as the master of this territory.

What was very disturbing was the extent of his blindness. I could sweep my hand to an inch of his face, and he saw nothing! Yet yesterday he sat on a small stump in his shed and fed unaided. He must have learnt how to feed himself by touch. He must have located the food by listening to it landing, or it being eaten by Girl. In the shed, he was like a blind man in his own house. Outside, he is out of place.

I put him on a perch, but he soon leapt off it at me in an act of defiance. In the late evening, I put him in a small mews for the night. I became reflective last night and retired far too early to bed.

Dr. Nonee was very helpful and led the way to Dr Walia’s house in Westlands. He had injured his right elbow and was taking a few days off work. Surrounded by his family in his garage, with and arm in a sling, he immediately said that it was cataracts. It was the first confirmed diagnosis by an eye specialist. He noted that the pupil reflex was fine and that the “visual pathway” was good. Like other surgeons, he was amazed at the size of the eye, saying that the lens diameter looked to be over twice that of a human. He suggested that we go through the following stages:

  1. Return Tuesday to get his eye measured at the Kikuyu Eye Hospital. This would require sedation and the use of an ultrasound placed on his cornea.
  2. Send the measurements, realizing the limitations of the measurements, to make comparisons with other species of eagles that may possibly have had lenses made for them. Using the most likely measurements and comparisons to other similar lenses, ask a (as yet unidentified) company in USA to make them ASAP and post them back. In the meantime, put Rosy on atropine ointment to dilate the pupil so that he might see something.
  3. The operation itself, all supposing the lenses make it and are of the flexible type that can be rolled and fed through a small incision, should not be too difficult. The date for that depends entirely on the speed of postage and manufacture of the lenses.

The drive back was not as bad, and although it did consume the better part of the day, it was a first step in the right direction. In weighing up all the variables, I favour this option for the primary reason that Kikuyu Eye Hospital is a three or four hour drive at most. South Africa is too far, besides my application letter outlining the situation and requesting assistance in the issuance of CITES has not been acknowledged, and is never likely to as the export differs in important details. A possible choice of going to the Kenya coastal eye hospital at Kwale will require a traumatic 250 mile drive. There would be no place to house him either. 

I was encouraged at the interest that both Dr. Nonee Magre and Dr. Walia showed in Rosy. The decision is now made to go ahead with this option.

PS. While feeding Rosy, I let Tim and Lucy (the lanners) off to play. Only Tim came back in near darkness. This is Lucy’s first night out.

The final decision for Rosy

The final decision for Rosy. Chapter 3

I have been asked “Is it worth doing this to a poor animal? Why not spare him the misery?” Rosy has a heart of iron, and if you saw him now, blind and on the ground (see photo), you would not dare venture close to him. He can still kill you, and rest assured he will try if he knows you are inside his breeding shed and possibility threatening his mate. No, Rosy wants to live and he is by no means a poor pathetic creature.


Rosy has governed what I do, where and how I live for most of my life. He has spanned generations of people concerned about raptors and has helped raise awareness. On the strength of his charisma, he netted recognition for what I do in the way of raptor conservation. One thing led to another and Kenya is certainly back on the map as a hot spot in Africa for raptor work and conservation. Much of that is owed to Rosy. He is a very important individual too when it comes to his donation of genes into the wild. Most eagles are lucky to sire half a dozen young. Rosy and Girl have beaten the record and will certainly continue to do so if given the chance. They have more young out there in the wild then most wild eagle pairs could ever hope for. There is no reason to think that his advanced years might mean that I have to contemplate having to put him down. He has easily 10 more years in him as a breeder, possibly more.


In the next few weeks I shall try to ensure that Rosy and Girl get a new shed in a safe location (possibly in Naivasha) with caring people. So far I have a reserved “yes”, but I need to reassure them that it will work out.  All the eagles need is peace, quiet, plus good food. That equals lots of babies. I will then at that point emerge from a year safari to take the young and release them somewhere. I may, if I am able, find a new location with better prospects, settle and then ask for them back. I need very understanding people to be able to take on this responsibility, who will, one day, give them up.

In quick succession we have to get Rosy to the hospital, examine and measure his lens with a special ultra sound gizmo, send off the specs to USA for IOL (lens) to be made. These are then DHL’ed back. At this point, things remain open. Paula Kahumbu and I talked this over with Richard Leakey in the Wildlife Direct office yesterday. He mentioned that he knew a highly skilled animal eye surgeon who might be willing to fly out to Kenya to do this one operation. Rosy is after all a very Important Eagle! Right now, we are waiting to hear back. After surgery, whenever it happens, Rosy will then need intensive care for at least a week, prior to being moved to his new location.This will take time. In mid September Laila Bahaa el din and I will set off around Kenya working on raptors prior to our journey across the continent. I have prioritized this fact-finding safari on African raptor status above so much. The magnitude of its importance is difficult to articulate to many of those that know me. Few can believe it possible that I would ever give up. I haven’t. In fact, I just added a whole load of responsibilities. I know the trip will be more important, and yes I have to remind myself of this sometimes, especially in the tough few weeks ahead.

It has taken me the whole of this last year to summon the courage to accept that things must change.

Rosy will get better. He and Girl will breed once more in a beautiful location. I owe that to him. He won’t really care what happens so long as he is with his mate. It has been heartening to see so many people freely give up their time to try and help Rosy. I am grateful to all of the above mentioned people.

For the first time since writing this blog, I am sure now on what I need donations for. I had not previously asked (although some kind people donated anyway!), being that the centre was in decline and running out of time and money. I do now make a request. I noted a quote given by the animal eye hospital in South Africa at some 14,000 Rand, or about $2,100, for both eyes and their IOLs. While we have had to drop that option, it may be plausible given the same costs are likely to be incurred here to aim for that sort of figure.

So there it is. If anyone can contribute, please do.

The red tape in getting Rosy operated on

The red tape in getting Rosy operated on. Chapter 2.

I had not made plans for Rosy’s immediate surgery. Now it is a priority. Some years ago I asked Dr Mark Wood of Kikuyu Eye Hospital to help with a wild female Crowned Eagle that was blind in one eye. Her iris and lens were fused in a tangle, probably the result of having had a branch, thorn or horn go right into the eye. He was surprised at the size of the eye, larger than a human’s and was able to use laser surgery to make a pin-hole camera effect so that she could partly see from it. The eagles breathing and heart stopped many times during surgery as she was given too much anaesthetic. She took about 3 days before she opened her eyes. We had been very lucky.  I do not think she survived more than 6 months after we released her back into her forest. But it did confirm that we had the know-how and potential to do the surgery here. I then got in contact with Dr Carmen Colitz in USA who forwarded a paper regarding surgery on a Horned Owl that was given Inter Ocular Lens (IOL) and later released into the wild. Dr Helen Lecke, a human eye surgeon in Kenya also helped in showing interest in this case. It was strongly suggested that I contact the only specialized unit in Africa that does animal eye surgery. I wrote to Dr Izak Venture [email protected] He was anxious to do the operation at a special unit and on particular days. It would be expensive as I would have to travel with Rosy of course but this news was encouraging. Now I had to deal with the most difficult part. Getting a CITES permit for his export to South Africa.  

Dr Isack Lekolool of Kenya Wildlife Service Vet dept’ came to see Rosy. He was convinced that he needed treatment immediately and preferably in South Africa. My next visit to KWS was not as productive. I was given poor reception and left very much discouraged by the irony that laws put in place to help conserve wildlife, can hamper it. I had to clear a long list of errands, some of which are not applicable in this unique circumstance. (I am currently working on updating the local IUCN summaries that influence CITES on the status of our raptors, which makes this even more painful). The final stumbling block is the inability to designate a person in South Africa as the legal recipient of the eagle, and thus the one making an application for a CITES import permit. No such person exists, and this is not the situation. The eagle would only be exported for a few days, making as much paper work for his return. It should be much simpler than this but communication has had to resort to posting formal letters which will take far too long. 


Picture of Rosy’s eye today.

My time budget is also limited. There is no space to explain here, but after a lifetime of working with raptors and having them all over my home, placed scenically in remote bush locations, I have come to the end of the road. I am leaving, finding homes for my birds and packing up a museum’s worth of accumulated furniture and raptor related mountains of stuff. I have no idea where to put it and have only this month to close the house down. I left the Peregrine Fund last year partly because the house and hawks itself demanded virtually all my time and I was unable to keep abreast of my work and even personal duties elsewhere. There is much more to it than that of course … some of it is personal. As usual the work load seemed to increase, but I was finally able to travel and get out of a hole into which I had dug far too deep. But the year dragged out and the cost of living increased until I was no longer sure if I could pay the rent, staff, fuel bills etc.


Paula Kahumbu came over with her son Josh over the weekend and sat me down in front of the computer for an intense course. She used a new cell phone modem that cut through the fog and finally I was able to see the Wildlife Direct web site in the comfort of my own computer!

I noted with delight that I have been given quite a bit of money. Some $400 has been donated by three people. It is all the more  generous as I have never specified what I need money for, and to be honest I never thought I would get donations. Now that I have, I must first acknowledge how grateful I am, and also confide in those that support this work that I have had to make a lot of changes of late.

I am grateful to Fineley, Teresa and Antonio and can tell you all that I shall probably put this money into saving the sight of Rosy the male Crowned Eagle. I shall have to post this particular story soon, but in short,Rosy now 32 years old has cataracts in both eyes. He now sits on his shed floor with his mate occasionally descending from the nest tree above to help feed him. He must have an operation that can restore his sight to near normal. Frustratingly, the very laws put in place to help protect wildlife, instead of assisting and expediating the process have conspired to thwart his emergency export to the only animal eye hospital in Africa. I have a quote for the operation at some 14,797 Rand(about $2140) [email protected] (without airfare). I shall now try to raise funds for this project, perhaps through this blog.

In the last year there have been many changes in the life of my raptor collection due to necessary changes in how I live and support myself financially. I have not earned any money for this last year, having asked my former employer that I retire in order to re-evaluate my priorities. The reasons were mostly due to a domestic personal down-turn of events but inflation and increasing lack of security in the immediate area were additional factors.

This entails closing down all operations at Game Ranching Athi River where the birds and I live. I have actively tried to get the collection to its lowest for some years now, recognising that I cannot work, meet expectations and keep a menagerie of wild animals at the same time. The birds down from some 20, to 9 in the last year to now only 6. Most have been released (as is the objective) and others will be given new homes. I plan to be able to return to this former life, with some of my old collection of birds if possible once I am more secure and better able to manage them to a standard they deserve.

Far from backing out I hope to become more effective and better able to financially support these animals. I intend to get some important data regarding the status of raptors throughout Africa and ultimately earning some revenue.

I will be driving throughout Africa with Laila gathering material for a series of reports and books on raptors. Laila Bahaa-el-din is as passionate about raptors and conservation of wildlife as I.  She is a highly talented stills photographer and travelled widely working with monkeys, cheetah, tigers, vultures on three continents. She also knows how to organise and most importantly how to run a computer with all its unintelligble communication problems that so inhibit me. She will soon be writing on this blog, introducing the across Africa Raptor Expedition.

Thanks again to all of those that check in from time to time and especially to those who have donated.