Apr 10, 2017 | By Julia

One very lucky bird in Northwestern Germany is the owner of a new 3D printed prosthetic limb. Söckchen is a three-year-old secretary bird, an African species with a crane-like shape, who resides in the Walsrode sanctuary.

As the pride and joy of the German sanctuary, Walsrode staff were devastated to find suddenly Söckchen injured one afternoon.

“Söckchen used to be part of [the] show group, but one day we found her in her aviary and saw that she had broken her left leg," said Janina Buse, a worker at the Walsrode sanctuary.

"Because the nerves had been so badly damaged, we were unfortunately forced to amputate the leg."

Not long ago, a procedure of this nature would have taken the African bird permanently out of commission. But today, fortunately for Söckchen and her admirers, 3D printing could provide a novel solution to the bird’s amputation.

Well known to those with an interest in additive manufacturing, e-NABLE is firmly established as a group of volunteers around the world who specialize in providing free 3D printed prosthetics for kids. The volunteer association’s good work, however, was new to the Walsrode sanctuary team.

One of Buse’s colleagues stumbled upon the innovative organization by chance, and reached out. After a couple phone calls, e-NABLE's Lars Thalmann arrived in Walsrode, ready to help.

Thalmann began by taking the necessary measurements for manufacturing a new leg for Söckchen. The undertaking was equally new for the e-NABLE associate, as the organization had never created a prosthetic for an animal before.

Consequently, this was not a straightforward project. "The first prosthesis was a perfect imitation of Söckchen's leg, but it was a bit heavy and caused friction on her healthy leg." Buse said.

But after a couple attempts, Thalmann proved successful. The e-NABLE representative designed and 3D printed a new leg for Söckchen, this time without the claws. "It looks much simpler and the bird is getting by great with it," Buse confirmed.

While Söckchen isn’t the first animal, or even bird, to receive a prosthetic limb, speculations persist about the ethical nature of such a procedure.

As local experts note, inflammation continues to be a common problem with prosthetics. Peter Kunzmann, a professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, explained that even after trying a range of various prosthetics, “the other leg always seems to become overloaded, causing inflammations. It really restricts the quality of life enjoyed by the bird. Prosthetic limbs aren’t just medically complex; their application also pose[s] a lot of ethical questions,” he said.

Animal caregivers should consider whether sporting a prosthetic limb actually brings any benefit to the animal, said Kunzmann, as this is the main criteria.

But as the Walsrode sanctuary shows, 3D printing is changing the prosthetics game, for humans and animals alike. Buse maintains that Söckchen’s 3D printed leg isn’t a burden. On the contrary, “she’s getting along great with it!”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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