Feb. 13, 2015 | By Alec

Three weeks ago, we reported on a touching story that reflected both the best and the worst of mankind. For in December 2014, a severely injured toucan bird was brought in to the animal rescue center ZooAve in Alajuela, Costa Rica. The toucan bird, from the forest of Grecia, Costa Rica was completely missing one-half of its top beak. It was later discovered by Costa Rican news outlets that a group of teenagers had hit the defenseless bird with a stick and had caused the severe injury.

While animals get injured all the time, a beak injury is particularly severe, as it prevented the bird (named Grecia, after its forest home) from eating or from defending itself. Toucans also use their beaks to regulate their body temperatures, so the loss of it drastically harms the bird’s health. Meanwhile, the male’s chances of reproducing were also destroyed as toucans chose mates based on the colors of their beaks.

But fortunately, mankind showed its good side too. After Grecia made an appearance on social media, an Indiegogo campaign was quickly started by worried animal lovers, who easily raised more than $7,000 (the campaign is still ongoing until March 10th). With that money, a 3D printed prosthetic replacement will be developed that will enable Grecia to eat and defend itself while in the wild.

As the BBC reported earlier this week, four Costa Rican companies 3D printing businesses, Elementos 3d, Ewa!corps, Publicidad Web and Grupo Sommerus, have now stepped forward to produce the prosthetic, though it will be quite a challenge to complete. While we report on 3D printed prosthetics for humans all the time, bird beaks are another matter. While US developers have successfully done so for an eagle and for a penguin in the past, Grecia’s condition challenges things.

While they have expressed their confidence that it can be completed, it will require a movable and a fixed part, that can be replaced to compensate for the young bird’s growth. It also needs to be lightweight to ensure the bird can remain balanced, but solid enough to ensure survival in the jungles of Costa Rica. And of course Grecia needs to be able to easily eat with it.But 3D designer Nelson Martinez, who will work on the project, revealed that will be even more complicated than that.: "We can’t use any type of adhesive with chemical components as it could compromise the structure of the beak." It might therefore need to be screwed in place. To cover all eventualities, Martinez and his team have been thoroughly studying toucan beaks to come up with a suitable design, but they are running out of time. Within a month or so, significant scar tissue will have formed that would make it impossible to scan the stump.

Raising the necessary funds is thus only the first step. It will be a race against the clock to complete the prosthetic in time. Meanwhile, Grecia is slowly recovering. Veterinarian Carmen Soto, who looks after Grecia at the Zoo Ave, told the BBC that Greci was slowly recovering well and had even started eating on its own. "But the quantity he manages to eat on his own is very small, so we have to help him," she said. And in the end, it remains to be seen if Grecia will accept the prosthesis.

But whatever happens, there is at least one piece of good news: the horrific attack on Grecia has raised a lot of awareness regarding animal abuse in Costa Rica. It has even inspired the country’s president Luis Guillermo Solís to call for the passing of an animal cruelty bill that will prevent such horrible incidents in the future, or will at least properly punish those responsible.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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