Caring for Captive Elephants’ Eyesight: Overcoming Challenges and Providing Hope

The Struggle to Protect Elephants’ Vision in Captivity

The eyes of Asian elephants serve as their vital connection to the world, a testament to their survival. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that captive elephants often suffer eye conditions, requiring human intervention to ensure their well-being.

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Many rescued elephants, particularly those from Wildlife SOS, face ocular challenges, with conditions like cataracts, corneal ulcers, and irreversible retinal damage being distressingly common.


Rescuing elephants from injury, old age, and mistreatment is a critical mission for Wildlife SOS. Among these brave survivors, ocular disorders stand out as a prevailing concern.

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While treatments are available for specific conditions such as cataracts and corneal ulcers, many elephants bear irreversible harm to their retinas, corneas, and lenses, underscoring the necessity of consistent medical care.

Tragically, the root of many ocular afflictions in rescued elephants can be traced back to the harsh conditions they endured in captivity.


Nina’s heart-wrenching tale, an elderly elephant rescued by Wildlife SOS in 2021, exposes the horrific practice of intentional elephant blindness.

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Veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Claudia Hartley uncovered Nina’s distressing state – one eye nearly collapsed, the other with a detached lens and shrinking retina.

Shockingly, both eyeballs were found to be perforated, indicating deliberate blinding, likely driven by profit-seeking owners. Regrettably, Nina’s ordeal is not isolated; captive elephants often suffer willful blindness to manipulate their behavior and evoke sympathy, serving financial interests.


Blindness in elephants can also stem from untreated injuries or severe malnutrition, as exemplified by Arya and Suzy, both grappling with vision loss due to such factors.

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Cataracts, a prevalent ocular ailment among captive Asian elephants, can lead to irreversible eye collapse or shrinkage if left untreated.

The distressing case of Phoolkali, a cherished elephant under Wildlife SOS’s care, demonstrates the profound impact of untreated cataracts – she has lost complete vision in her right eye.


The complexities of medical treatment in elephants exacerbate eyesight challenges. Performing cataract surgery on elephants remains a precarious endeavor, given the potential adverse effects of complete anesthesia on their well-being.

Post-operative care presents further obstacles, with elephants’ natural tendencies to rub their eyes and throw dust, fostering infection risks. Consequently, Wildlife SOS has not proceeded with surgery for their rescued elephants.

Uveitis, keratitis, and partial blindness are additional ocular conditions affecting rescued elephants, highlighting the multifaceted nature of their eye health.


The commitment to these majestic creatures’ well-being encompasses regular medical attention, including daily eye drops for lubrication and tear duct maintenance.

Nutritional planning is equally vital, with antioxidant-rich diets and essential Vitamin A and D supplements contributing to their eye health.

A safe and accommodating environment is crafted for those robbed of their sight, enabling them to navigate their surroundings through their remaining senses.


Heartbreakingly, instances like Lakhi, intentionally blinded by owners, remind us of the challenges elephants face.

Yet, organizations like Wildlife SOS serve as beacons of hope, tirelessly working to advance veterinary ophthalmology in India and secure the well-deserved care and protection of these remarkable animals.

The mission to safeguard captive elephants’ vision is an ongoing pursuit, with dedicated professionals striving to secure crucial tools like the tono pen, a device pivotal in assessing intraocular pressure.


Through their unwavering efforts, a brighter future emerges for these resilient creatures, where their eyes are protected and their dignity restored.

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