By Janet Tappin Coelho
A black billed toucan with a stub for an upper beak, has got a new 3D replacement, following hundreds of WhatsApp messages from vets who gave step-by-step instructions to volunteers on how to make the prosthesis.
It’s the first time this remote technique has been used by animal experts in Campinas, south east Brazil, who planned every stage of the procedure online with their long-distance learners in Florianopolis, south Brazil, some 700 miles away.
The exercise promises to open a whole new way of working with other animal specialists in different countries around the world, who want to learn how to make 3D prosthetics to save and improve the life of an animal.
The tapped-out guidance involved teaching the team of vets how to turn the toucan’s injured stump into a virtual 3D model with messages on how to take accurate images so a workable beak could be printed allowing the animal to eat again.
The adult male was found by environmental police in December last year with a traumatic storm-damage fracture to his upper beak. Agents took the vulnerable creature to the Rio Vermelho State Park in Florianopolis.
To save its life, wildlife vets who work for R3 Animal Association, which takes care of the Park’s Wildlife Screening Centre, decided to force feed the nutrition-starved creature through a gastric tube in its stomach, every three hours.
Dental surgeon, Paulo Miamoto, who led the three months project, which started in February this year, with vet colleague Roberto Fecchio, said: “Even though it was for the bird’s own good, this was a particularly upsetting case because the toucan had to be man-handled and restrained every time he was fed.”
The Park’s vets initially tried to save the distressed animal by adapting and attaching a beak from a deceased toucan.
Miamoto said: “It didn’t work as this type of homologous prosthesis doesn’t have the durability and its biological properties prevent it from withstanding daily use by its new host. So it soon fell off.”
The injured bird has been dubbed Frankie, short for Frankenstein because it has been patched up with dead parts from another animal and now has plastic components and metal screws holding its new beak on.
Miamoto explained: “We instructed the team on how to make a cast of the fractured beak (with the help of a local dentist) and once that was done, they took about 40 pictures from all angles of the mould with a cell phone.
“It’s like turning your mobile phone camera into a 3D scanner because these snaps transform the mould into a virtual object that can be measured, modelled and printed in 3D.
“They sent these pictures to me and I digitised the model using photogrammetry, which essentially involves extracting 3D geometric info from 3D images.”
Fecchio added: “It was a learning process for everyone because we had to give clear and patient guidance on areas that we are really familiar with.
“And anticipate the problems the team might face while not being physically there to support them.”
Miamoto and Fecchio are part of Brazil’s Animal Avengers team that has saved the lives of numerous animals including giving Freddy the tortoise a new 3D shell, printing an artificial beak for Gigi the macaw and recently repairing the damaged paw of Zeus the Whippet with a 3D prosthetic foot shaped like a ballet shoe.
The toucan’s beak was modelled using free software and then digitally printed. Two models had to be made after the first one failed to fit because the length was too short.
To ensure the operation went to plan, Miamoto decided, at the last minute, to assist the three vets, Cristiane Kolesnikovas, João Roeder and Maria
Baldini, who had been distance-learning the prosthetic procedure. Fecchio said: “We didn’t want to risk it failing so we decided to step in.
“Before Paulo went to Florianopolis, we exchanged hundreds of messages with the vets about what materials would be needed in the operation, how the prosthesis would be fixed and how it was essential to carry out the procedure quickly and with precision.”
The prosthesis was surgically attached at the Lagoa Veterinary Clinic.
“One major thing we took away from this life saving operation was the need to work as a close knit team especially when placing a vulnerable animal under anaesthetic,” reported vet, Maria Baldini.
A day after the three-hour procedure in May this year, Frankie demonstrated his new artificial nozzle was a perfect fit, gulping down food as if he had never lost his upper beak.
If his recovery goes smoothly the toucan will be released into the ecological park and monitored from a distance.