Win Thida, a 45-year-old Asian elephant, has become the first pachyderm in Europe to be fitted with a contact lens in an operation that required a stepladder to reach the giant-size patient.

The Irish Times reported Win Thida, a native of Burma, had scratched her cornea during a scuffle with another member of the herd at the Artis Zoo and the eye had started watering.

To the rescue came veterinarian Anne-Marie Verbruggen, who had fitted contact lenses on horses before but never tackled an elephant.

"The main difficulty was her height," the paper quoted Verbruggen as saying. "Elephants can't lie down for long before their immense weight impairs their breathing, so I used a ladder to get close enough.

"It wasn't ideal, but it worked. She seemed happier straight away."

The operation was carried out under anesthetic, and Win Thida stood throughout.

But all that patience took practice. For several weeks before the surgery, Win Thida trained with Verbruggen to prepare for the procedure.

Now, with the protective new lens in place, her cornea should be able to heal.

Win Thida, the matriarch of the zoo's elephant herd, began life in a Burmese work camp was first moved to a Dutch zoo in Arnhem in 1989 and then to Amsterdam in 2004.