'Contact lenses' from east Germany for lions, tigers and bears
Lions, giraffes, tigers, rabbits, bears, rhinoceroses and even owls
can go blind from cataracts, but an east German firm has an answer:
custom-made "contact lenses".
The procedure is delicate, to say the least, and requires special
training for veterinarians.
But it has propelled tiny S & V Technologies, founded by Bavarian
chemist and entrepreneur Christine Kreiner in the former communist east,
to global leadership in a highly specialised field.
The acrylic intraocular lenses are implanted into animals' eyes when
their vision has clouded to the point of total impairment, and are
fitted for various species, from cat-eye-sized to fist-width for rhinos.
"Cataracts generally means blindness for animals, unlike for humans,"
said the head of the company's veterinary division, Ingeborg Fromberg.
"And because animals have short life spans, it means losing quality
of life in a greater share of that life."
Since its launch in 2008, the firm has fielded calls from Sea World
in San Diego (a sea lion who had trouble performing his tricks due to
severely blurry vision), an Australian nature park (a blind kangaroo)
and a Romanian zoo (a visually impaired lioness).
The German lenses have helped turn the lights back on for dozens of
house pets, racehorses, circus animals, guide dogs literally preventing
the blind leading the blind and even wild creatures roaming nature
Special lenses that absorb UV rays can also be used to help horses
afflicted with "head shaker syndrome", an excruciating and ultimately
Although the expense of such an operation and subsequent check-ups
can run into the thousands of euros (dollars), the procedure is often
worth it for animals that have gone blind and for their owners.
"When something is unsettling for an animal, when they don't have a
good sense of their surroundings, they can begin to get aggressive or
unpredictable or withdrawn," Fromberg said.
That can mean the pricey investment in training an animal is wasted.
Impaired vision can also blunt the sex drive, stopping animals from
reproducing. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, has paid for lens
transplants for brown bears in a preserve in China.
"Of course that is only one side of it some are pets and seen as
members of the family and worth any expense," Fromberg said.
She said the trickiest part of treating big animals such as elephants
and rhinos is the anesthesia. "If larger animals lie for too long on one
side during an operation then it puts too much pressure on the heart.
That makes things a bit harder," she said.
"With a giraffe, for example, its head may never be lower than its
heart. Every animal has its peculiarities that you have to contend
CEO Kreiner, a 64-year-old from Munich, chose to set up her unusual
firm in Hennigsdorf, a sleepy riverside town that has become a high-tech
haven in the 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell.
On the capital's northern outskirts, Henningsdorf also made smart
business sense because the European Union and the German government both
pitched in to provide one-third of the startup costs.
Kreimer has founded five different firms in her years in business and
said she was drawn to Germany's ex-communist east in the heady
trailblazing mood of national unification in 1990.
"I thought at the time that it would be better to go to a poorer part
of Germany rather than stay in Bavaria," the prosperous southern state,
"The thinking was that it would be less bureaucratic in an eastern
state, and that the subsidies would be better than in the west. It was
the right decision."