Pioneering eye surgery saves Pensthorpe cranes from blindness

Pippin is one of two male cranes at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve to have had pioneering surgery to remo

Pippin is one of two male cranes at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve to have had pioneering surgery to remove cataracts. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Two young bachelors will have a clear eye to take a gander at the ladies on Valentine's Day – thanks to pioneering surgery which has saved their sight.

Chances of romance looked remote for Eurasian cranes Merry and Pippin, who live at Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham.

While the birds are famed for their elaborate, sure-footed courtship rituals, their dancing days looked to be over after they developed cataracts.

Hatched at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, last year, Merry and Pippin were expected to be released into the wild as part of the Great Crane Project, which hopes to re-establish a sustainable breeding population of the birds in Britain.

But a routine health check revealed the growths were forming in the lenses of their eyes, which would eventually blind them.

The birds, then four months old, were taken out of the release programme and sent to Pensthorpe instead.

Staff at the park took Merry and Pippin to an ophthalmic vet 100 miles away in Hertfordshire. David Gould from Davies Veterinary Specialists removed the cataracts from their eyes in a delicate operation only known to have been carried out on a UK crane once before.

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'The operation was a great success and, following a short period of rest and recuperation, I'm delighted to see them well and behaving as cranes should,' said Chrissie Kelley, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust's head of species management. It's hoped the birds will begin their dances soon.

It's excellent news for Merry and Pippin, named after the hobbits in Lord of the Rings due to their love of shiny things.

Extinct in the wild since the 17th century, Eurasian cranes started returning to the UK as occasional visitors in the 1800s.

Since the Great Crane Project began its work in 2010, 93 cranes have been reared and released, with three – including Merry and Pippin – being held back in captivity for welfare reasons. Now Pensthorpe staff hope nature will soon take its course and the dapper duo will get an urge to show off their fancy footwork in a bid to woo their mates.

Have you got a wildlife story? Write to chris.bishop@archant.co.uk

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