A parrot in Brazil has a new chance for better life thanks to technology-savvy veterinarians who gave her beak an upgrade. Macaw is a colorful, long-tailed parrot with distinctive large beak.
This parrot species is popular as pet, but because of the same reason very endangered in the wild.Sometimes they can be released back into the wild, but if they were born in captivity it is usually better to find them a home in a zoo. But when a blue and yellow macaw called Gigi was saved recently in Brazil there was a problem. She had a badly deformed upper beak and couldn’t eat.
The simple solution would have been to put Gigi down, but a team of vets from Sao Paolo weren’t ready to give up yet. They decided 3D printing might be the answer. It was a big challenge though. One of the team, Roberto Fecchio, had already made a 3D printed beak to a toucan that had crashed into a window. But toucans mostly feed on fruit and their large bills are very lightly built.
Macaws are an entirely different kettle of parrots. They eat varied foods that include a lot of tough seeds and their beaks are immensely powerful, so they can crunch their way into them. A PLA beak wouldn’t be able to take the abuse a typical macaw diet handed it, so that clearly wasn’t an option for Gigi.
In fact, Fecchio decided early on that – no plastic would do. Even if it didn’t break it would quickly wear out. A metal beak was the way to go but what metal? The only one is titanium which is both light and strong enough and that’s very difficult to machine. The answer was to use 3D printing.
The first stage was to take photos of Gigi’s beak, which were converted into a 3D model using a custom Blender plugin. A model of a normal macaw beak was then added, and the two altered to create the design for a prosthetic that could be fitted over Gigi’s natural beak, which was trimmed to create a secure base.
On 18 February Gigi’s new beak was fitted at Sao Paolo’s Animal Care Centre. Her deformed beak was shaped to match the 3D model, then the titanium one was mounted on it with bone cement and orthopedic screws. Just 48 hours later the macaw was already adapting well to having a fully working beak for the first time in years.
Gigi’s titanium prosthetic is well out of reach of a home 3D print job, but many other animals have been helped with parts any modern printer can make. As well as the toucan bill there’s Fred the tortoise, whose shell was damaged in a forest fire. She’s now living happily in a custom-printed PLA one. Several cat and dog amputees have been fitted with printed pet wheelchairs or prosthetics.
After successful surgery, the research center posted photos and videos of Gigi living her new life with her new beak.
We wish you all the best, Gigi!