Last April, we reported on the heartwarming story of Grecia, a male toucan who lost his beak in a “senseless attack.” He was fitted with a prosthetic beak by the kind people at the Centro de Rescate de Vida Silvestre Tropical … and now, here comes the tale of another toucan who has benefitted from the same technology!
Tieta, a young female who was rescued from a wild animal fair in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was in a sorry state when first found.
It is unclear whether she lost the upper section of her beak due to mistreatment by her human handlers, or whether it happened in a fight with a bigger toucan who had been locked into the same box as her.
After her rescue, wildlife management group Institudo Vida Livre, in collaboration with teams from three Brazilian universities, immediately set about repairing the damage.
The beak was made from plastic, covered with nail polish, and then sealed with a type of polymer derived from the castor oil plant. It weighs just four grams.
It took researchers three months to design the beak. Designer Gustavo Cleinman from Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University said the biggest challenge was to create “a light and resilient prosthesis.” It was produced in under two hours using a 3-D printer, and the surgery to attach it to Tieta’s remaining beak took around forty minutes.
At first, Tieta did not know that she was able to use her new beak as she had once used her old one. Roched Seba, director of the Institudo Vida Livre, said, “It took her three days to realize she had it again. We were feeding her and she was ignoring the new beak. But when we gave her live animals, like maggots and cockroaches, she ate normally immediately. I believe she had that kind of food when she was free, before losing the beak. So it activated a core memory.”
Veterinarians believe that the prosthesis will enable Tieta to eat independently, access glands on her body that keep her feathers waterproof, and help her to feed any chicks she may have in the future.
Before surgery, she was only able to eat by throwing food into the air using the lower section of her beak, then attempting to catch it. She was only successful once in every three attempts.
Taciana Sherlock from Ibama, the Brazilian wildlife and environmental protection agency, said that while Tieta’s new prosthesis has certainly improved her quality of life, “she wouldn’t be able to live an independent life, even in captivity.” Ibama are hoping to send her to a sanctuary where her story can be used to create awareness about animal trafficking. She will be joined by a male toucan, who was also rescued from traffickers and has a similar problem with his beak. Researchers hope that the two will eventually mate and have chicks who could be released into the wild, but only time will tell!
While it is unfortunate that Tieta can never be released back into her original home, it is so heartening to know that so many researchers were willing to do whatever they could to ease the stress she was under after losing her beak. Whatever the future holds for Tieta, we hope she never has to endure the pain of human cruelty again!