By Janet Tappin Coelho in Brazil
A mandarin duck that had both feet severed in an attack by predators while swimming in a lake in Brazil, is waddling around again after being fitted with replacement prostheses – that resemble tiny boots.
The injured bird’s missing feet were restored in a unique 40-minute operation by a vet and a prosthetics technician, who created two lightweight moulds out of dental resin and bonded them to the damaged limbs.
A fortnight after the new prosthetic feet were attached and painted a bright yellow, the drake has amazed animal experts on how well it has adapted to the artificial substitutes.
The prize bird, which lives on a nature reserve in Sao Paulo, was found, earlier this month (March), struggling to swim while making futile attempts to dive beneath the water to catch prey.
“When I pulled the Mandarin out of the water I realised he had suffered a major trauma which had caused him to lose buoyancy,” recalled Reinaldo Grivol, who works as a park official at the Parque Clube de Pirajuí.
“His webbed feet were gone, and his shanks were mutilated stumps, dripping with blood.
“We believe he was attacked by either a large carnivorous fish or by an otter that bit off his feet while he was in the water.”
Regarded as the world’s most beautiful duck with its stunning plumage, the photogenic fowl was taken to local vet, Wilma Pinatti.
She said: “I managed to successfully treat the injuries by curing the lesions and dressing the wounds, but this was evidently not going to be enough.
“It was clear the fowl couldn’t be released back into the wild as he wouldn’t survive.
“I asked a good friend, who specialises in dental prostheses, to help me find a solution so the duck could walk again.”
According to the animal expert, the challenge was complex because they needed to ensure the synthetic imitations did not exacerbate the bird’s injuries and cause blisters. But extended the creatures’ ability to live independently on the reserve.
“The prostheses had to be lightweight while at the same time strong enough to sustain the duck’s weight and resistant, allowing him to swim again without pulling him down in the water,” the pet specialist said.
Dental prosthetics technician, Marcelo Calister measured the duck’s shanks and discovered his index finger was a good judge for the width and thickness of the creature’s legs.
“After a bit of trial and error, we found the best method was to use a silicone based dental resin, the type used in dentures,” he explained, adding he took comparative measurements of the feet from other Mandarins in the park.
The mould was produced in the shape of little ‘boots’ with the covering extending up to seal in the duck’s leg and the bottom cut to resemble webbed feet.
“The fitting process was very fast. Within 40 minutes the prostheses were attached to the bird and he adapted to his new look immediately,” Mr Calister recalled.
To everyone’s delight, the adult red-bill male experienced no complications and is currently having physiotherapy sessions in a bath to practice swimming.
The vet visits once a week to monitor the Mandarin’s recovery because it’s still on medication and will only be released back into the wild once it’s made a full recovery.
In the meantime, the cute creature is keeping everyone entertained as it ‘clacks’ around the yard in its new yellow boots.