Life

Rescued Toucan Receives 3D-Printed Beak [Watch]

A toucan who lost the upper portion of her beak while being smuggled by wildlife traffickers was outfitted with a new 3D-printed prosthesis.

Credit: BBC

Credit: Instituto Vida Livre’s Facebook

Thanks to developments in technology, it’s now possible for humans and animals to receive specially-crafted 3D-printed prosthetics. In the past, for example, an eagle received a 3D-printed beak after poachers shot it off and a disabled kitten was outfitted with a 3D-printed wheelchair.

Recently, a Brazilian toucan named Tieta received a 3D-printed prosthetic after she lost half her beak in an accident.

BBC reports that the rescued bird was mutilated while being trafficked by smugglers from a wildlife fair in Rio de Janeiro. While there are mixed reports of how the bird lost her upper beak, experts speculate that it was a result of mistreatment from smugglers; it is also possible she was attacked by a larger bird in transit.

Since losing the upper portion of her beak, Tieta had been throwing food in the air and trying to catch it as a means to feed herself. Unfortunately, her efforts were successful only one-third of the time.

Because the toucan was struggling to eat and the missing beak left her defenseless and open to predators, the wildlife management group Instituto Vida Livre decided to make her a new one. The team – comprised of members from three universities – used the latest technology to scan, build, and 3D print the bill.

Credit: Instituto Vida Livre's Facebook

Credit: Instituto Vida Livre’s Facebook

Because a toucan’s beak is composed of spongy keratin tissue, it’s actually very light. Therefore, the team constructed it out of plastic and sealed it with a special polymer made from the castor oil plant. In result, the finished replacement beak weighed only 4 grams.

On July 27th, 2015, a surgery was conducted on the bird to fit her with the new bill. After 40 minutes, the effort was deemed a success. However, it took a while for Tieta to get used to her new fully functioning beak.

Instituto Vida Livre Director Roched Seba told the BBC:

It took her three days to realize she had it again. We were feeding her fruit and she was ignoring the new beak. But when we gave her live animals, like maggots and cockroaches, she ate normally immediately.

I believe she had that kind of food when she was free, before losing the beak. So it activated a core memory.”

Credit: Instituto Vida Livre's Facebook

Credit: Instituto Vida Livre’s Facebook

Because experts do not believe Tieta will ever be able to live independently in the wild, she will never again live free. However, she can now eat independently and is promised a comfortable life in captivity. 

Another toucan named Tuc Tuc also received a 3D-printed beak after he was injured on a road in Brazil. Watch the video by Insider Edition below:

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