Eye-ops give Pensthorpe cranes a chance of love and life

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Eligible young bachelors Merry and Pippin will have a clear eye for the ladies at Pensthorpe on Valentine’s Day – after undergoing pioneering sight-saving operations.

The future for love, and life, looked bleak for the two elegant Eurasian cranes – famous for elaborate, dancing sure-footed courtship rituals – when they developed cataracts.

But ground-breaking surgery has restored their sight and staff at the Fakenham-based centure 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 mates.

Hatched at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge, Merry and Pippin were expected to be released into the wild as part of the Great Crane Project.

However, it gradually became clear all was not well.

A routine health check revealed cataracts were forming in the lenses of their eyes which would have led to blindness if something wasn’t done.

The cranes, then four months old were taken out of the release programme and sent to Great Crane Project partners Pensthorpe Conservation Trust instead.

Keen to do their best for the long-legged birds, Pensthorpe staff 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.

Chrissie Kelley, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust’s head of species management, said: “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.”

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.