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3D Printers

Injured toucan gets beak repair courtesy of 3D printing

A custom prosthetic beak-piece helps a toucan rescued from animal smugglers eat and groom normally once again.

Tieta shows off her repaired beak. Instituto Vida Livre

3D printing isn't just for people to make tchotchkes, buildings and Kraken dice. There's a whole realm of the 3D-printing world involved with helping out animals who need a leg ( Derby the dog), face ( Akut-3 the turtle) or foot ( Ozzie the goose). We can now welcome Tieta the toucan to their ranks.

Tieta was rescued in Brazil from an illegal animal seller. Half of her upper beak was missing. If you've ever seen a toucan, you know how magnificent their beaks are. Those bills are also practical in the wild, helping the birds reach for food and regulate their body temperature.

Tieta got a 3D-printed plastic prosthesis in late July to repair her bill. The process of creating the prosthesis was intensive. Designers used a taxidermy toucan as a model and several prototypes were printed. The lightweight final design received a coat of nontoxic varnish and a castor-oil-based polymer for durability. Collaborators on the project included wildlife preservation group Instituto Vida Livre and the Federal University of Rio de Janiero.

It took Tieta three days to adjust to the repaired appendage, but she is now able to eat normally. "We were feeding her fruit and she was ignoring the new beak. But when we gave her live animals, like maggots and cockroaches, she ate normally immediately," Instituto Vida Livre director Roched Seba told BBC News.

It's not known how Tieta lost part of her bill. It could have been an accident in the wild or through mistreatment by wildlife smugglers. The bird will spend the rest of her life in the safety of an animal sanctuary.