A toucan that lost part its upper beak — and thus the ability to eat — has been given a replacement via a 3D printer.
Tieta was rescued by police from a fair in Rio De Janeiro and had around half of the upper beak missing. Rescuers think that may have been the result of animal smugglers treating her badly, though its also possible that she came off worse in a fight after being locked in a box with a larger toucan.
Without the complete beak, Tieta was unable to eat on her own and thus reliant on hand feeding by rescuers at her new home in the Free Flight Institute. Left to herself she was resorting to flicking food in the air using the bottom half of the beak and then trying to catch it, something that only worked about one time in three.
Researchers in Jundai originally tried making a prosthesis using the beak of a deceased toucan but it wasn’t a close enough match to stay in place and broke off. The staff then used cameras to create a 3D model of the incomplete beak and in turn figure out the size and shape of the missing part.
After three months of design work, it took two hours to print the replacement part, which is 4cm long and weighs 4g, then around 40 minutes to fit. The new beak part is made of a plastic coated in nail polish with a sealant polymer created from the castor oil plant applied on top of it.
For the first three days after the fitting, Tieta didn’t seem to take any notice of the completed upper beak. However, staff believe that’s because they were feeding her fruit, something that may not have been her primary diet in the wild. As soon as they switched to offering her insects, she began eating normally.
While Tieta should now be able to eat on her own and feed any chicks she later produces, staff believe it’s too risky to release her into the wild. Her most likely permanent home will be an educational zoo.