Avian Expert Articles

A Printed Prosthetic For A Damaged Beak

Photo by Danielle-Aires
Tieta the Toucan before her prosthetic beak was attached (Photo by Danielle-Aires)

Our technological advances help to shape our future world into a more hospitable place. One of those technologies is 3D printing. A few months back, there was an article about a Toucan horribly abused by a group of teens in a village in Costa Rica. The bird, a young Toucan known to the villagers as Grecia, had his beak snapped off. In the past, this would have been a death sentence for the Toucan as the beak is essential for food gathering and protection from other aggressors. But, with science and the availability of 3D printing, a science that allows for precision development of a solid and three-dimensional ‘part’ via a printer using essential materials as ‘ink’, the natural obstacles can be cleared. Grecia has yet to receive his prosthetic beak, however, with extended therapies, and continued healing, Grecia will soon be outfitted with a proper replacement. For now, Grecia is being pushed into the fast lane by the treatment of another Toucan, who also suffered a beak injury.

Tieta the toucan with her new prosthetic beak. (Photo by Danielle-Aires)

According to a recent BBC article, in the early part of 2015, a Toucan was rescued who was missing the upper part of her beak, much like Grecia. It is not known whether she lost it due to mishandling by smugglers in the illegal trade of exotic birds, or if it was broken in a fight with another toucan in a box she was contained in. The injured bird was given the name Tieta, a warm personalization that bonds the caregivers with the bird.

The Instituto Vida Livre organization in South America began a project to help Tieta become outfitted with a 3D-printed beak prosthetic using an American manufactured 3D printer by 3D Systems (Rock Hill, SC). In time, a small plastic upper beak was created. On July 27 of 2015, the newly created beak was attached to Tieta in a short surgical procedure. With specialized training, Tieta was able to regain her natural ability to eat.

According to the BBC, the director of Instituto Vida Livre explained that Tieta had redeveloped a natural trust in her beak, enough to start eating live creatures like maggots, and cockroaches soon after the attachment of the prosthetic. Also stated by the director, it would be unlikely that the new prosthetic would allow reintroduction into a wild environment. But it certainly will give Tieta the ability to be herself, once again.

It is hoped that the advancement of Tieta with her new prosthetic beak will also assist in the development of a beak for Grecia. As Grecia gets closer to being outfitted with one of his own, much will be understood to make the transition even smoother.

With two Toucans in the public eye getting new 3D-printed prosthetic beaks, the stage is being scientifically set for future Toucans who will, unfortunately, suffer the same abuses or mishaps. With a better understanding of the procedures, needs of the Toucans better understood, and the need to possibly retrain a bird after attachment, the future of our beautiful birds who become injured are becoming more and more assured.

It should be an eye-opening study of the miraculous effects of 3D-printed parts. Science has been able to “print” working vessels, bones, and many other useable things that include the building of a complete house in a short period of time. Tieta and Grecia are but two lucky recipients of this life-enhancing technology that is advancing every day. The future of humanity and medical science will enrich all of our lives.

YouTube video of Tieta with newly attached beak

Photo by Danielle-Aires
Photo by Danielle-Aires
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