Mutilated Toucan Receives 3D-Printed Beak

Female toucan lost her beak in an unknown accident. Image credit: Danielle Aires
Danielle Andrew 26 Aug 2015, 13:59

A Brazilian toucan that lost half her beak has been fitted with a 3D-printed prosthetic.

The female toucan, called Tieta by her rescuers, was rescued from a wildlife fair in Rio de Janeiro after being trafficked by smugglers, according to the BBC. There are conflicting reports as to how Tieta lost part of her upper beak, but it may have been caused by mistreatment from smugglers or an attack by a larger bird in transit.

Tieta had been attempting to eat by throwing food in the air and trying to catch it, but she only succeeded once every three tries, according to the BBC. Not only did the injury leave Tieta struggling to eat, the missing beak also left her defenseless and open to predators.

A project was put together by wildlife management group Instituto Vida Livre that involved three universities. The team used the latest technology to scan, build and 3D print the bill, creating it out of plastic and sealing it with a special polymer made from the castor oil plant. In total, the replacement beak weighs only 4 grams.

Tieta's beak being scanned by researchers to create a replacement.

While a toucan's bill may look cumbersome, it is actually very light and composed of spongy keratin tissue. Thus, the team needed to create a lightweight prosthetic – especially as Tieta herself only weighs 300 grams.

Lightweight 3D-printed beak.

A New Beginning

Tieta was fitted with her new bill on July 27th via a 40-minute surgery, and although the attachment was a success, it took her a while to get used to her new fully functioning beak.

Tieta with her new beak. Image credit: Instituto Vida Livre's Facebook.

"It took her three days to realize she had it again," Instituto Vida Livre Director Roched Seba told the BBC. "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," he added.

Unfortunately, not even this groundbreaking prosthesis will allow her to be released back into the wild as experts believe she would be unable to live independently. But there is a happy ending for Tieta: The new beak will allow her to feed independently, and feed any chicks she may have in the future.

There was another reported case of a toucan with a missing portion of his beak earlier in February, caused by an attack by a group of cruel youths in Costa Rica. This toucan, Grecia, is also in line for a replacement beak, but still needs time for his wound to fully recover before a team of veterinarians are able to scan his beak to create a model. Researchers hope to eventually mate the pair. Hopefully, Tieta’s successful story will hasten the process of Grecia to receive the same treatment.

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