Animal trafficking is a major concern in the world today, and the amount of money involved is simply staggering. Even more shocking is the inhumanity and suffering that so many animals endure. While this beautiful toucan was being smuggled, she lost her pride and joy: her beautiful beak. Thank goodness for Instituto Vida Livre, a Brazillian animal rescue organization, who came up with a brilliant solution!
Tieta the toucan was rescued from a fair in Rio de Janeiro where wildlife can be bought on the black market. The upper portion of her beak was badly damaged, making it almost impossible for her to feed. How her beak was damaged is not known for sure, but it was speculated that she might have been mishandled by smugglers, or had a violent encounter with another animal while locked in a confined space.
In a ground-breaking mission to restore this toucan’s damaged beak, Instituto Vida Livre fitted her with a 3D-printed plastic prosthetic beak in order to help her feed and live more normally.
The reconstruction project was coordinated by the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization, Instituto Vida Livre and also involved three Brazilian universities.
The prosthetic beak was designed, 3D-printed in plastic, and painted with nail polish to match the colors of the Toucan’s beak. It was then sealed with a special polymer made from a castor oil plant.
The plastic beak replacement
Taciana Sherlock from the Brazilian wildlife control agency Ibama said when they saved Tieta, she was in a shocking state with half of her upper beak missing. Ms. Sherlock says that before surgery, Tieta was using her lower beak to throw food in the air while trying to catch it making feeding very difficult. Only one in three of her eating attempts were successful, and as a result, Tieta was malnourished.
Black-beaked toucans like Tieta are expensive. They are native to Rio, and can cost up to $5,000 (£3,180) when sold legally according to Ms. Sherlock.
When Tieta was fitted with the prosthetics, “It took her three days to realize she had it again,” said the Instituto Vida Livre’s director, Roched Seba. “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,” he explained.
Hungry for live food
“I believe she had that kind of food when she was free, before losing the beak. So it activated a core memory,” he added.
It took the team three months to design the beak, but only two hours for the 3D-printer to print it. It weighed 4g and it was 4cm (1.6in) long.
The prosthetic beak is 4cm long and replaces the upper part of the broken-off beak
Tieta herself is very light, and only weighs 300g. Designer Gustavo Cleinman from Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University said that the biggest challenge was to create a light and resilient prosthetic. He explained that he used a dead animal’s beak as a model. He adapted it to resemble Tieta’s original beak.
Tieta’s surgery only took 40 minutes to perform but was not without risks veterinarian, Thiago Muniz said.
Dr. Thiago Muniz explained that the prosthetic will allow Tieta to eat normally and help her access glands on her body that keep her feathers waterproof. Tieta will also be able to feed any chicks she might have in the future. Unfortunately, Muniz said, Tieta will not be allowed to be freed into the wild in case of complications.
Wildlife control agency Ibama is planning to send her to an educational zoo to create awareness about animal trafficking.
Coincidentally, another group of researchers were in the process of creating another prosthetic beak for a different injured toucan in Sao Paulo–and the two teams were unaware of each other’s work.
What they are aiming for is to have her paired with another rescued toucan also with a replacement beak wherever she is sent.
The team hopes for Tieta and the male toucan to mate. “Their chicks would then be released into the wild,” Ibama says.
Another toucan from Sao Paulo was also fitted with a prosthetic beak after its beak was damaged
The beak was designed using 3D-digital technology
It was then painted to match to toucan’s natural beak color
He can now eat fruits and vegetables
Let’s watch the below video