The unique story of one tortoise affected by fire is inspiring new ways of caring for injured and rehabilitating animals.
All tortoises share the unique anatomical feature of a shell. The shell has two parts, the carapace, and the plastron, and is relied upon for protection from predators, hunters, and the environment.
This tortoise was found close to death by veterinarian surgeon Dr. Rodrigo Rabello, nicked name Thor after a bush fire completely destroyed its protective covering.
She has lived through a terrible fire, and consequently, she had suffered pneumonia, hunger for 45 days, near-death and most obviously, lost 85% of her protective shell. The tortoise was therefore named Freddy, after the fire-damaged character Freddy Krueger, of Nightmare on Elm Street fame.
Since a damaged shell cannot be regrown, Freddy faced a life of long term disability without her hard outer shell. Yet, the ‘Animal Avengers’, a self-named group of volunteers and specialists from Brazil, consisting of Dr. Rabello and three other vets, a dental surgeon, and a 3D designer, were determined to change that.
The team has built a name for themselves in helping other animals regain function through 3D printing. Most notably, they designed and printed a series of beak prosthetics for toucans, a parrot, and a goose.
One of the veterinarians, Dr. Roberto Fecchio, explained that they came together as friends due to their common love for animals and science.
Soon, they soon realized they could “do some extraordinary work using cutting-edge technology to push back the boundaries of life-saving care for mutilated animals by giving them customized prostheses.”
The team initially studied and measured other tortoise shells. They eventually decided to 3D print a new shell for Freddy, using a corn-derived plastic and printing the shell in several pieces.
Cicero Moraes, “the Hulk”, used photos of other tortoises and designed a virtually “smashproof” 3D printed shell in four individual pieces. He said:
“To design the hull I took a series of pictures from all angles of Freddy as well as photos of a healthy tortoise to compare. Then I reconstructed a 3D computer imaging model of the complete shell using the tortoise’s exact measurements.”
Next, dental surgeon Dr. Paulo Miamoto, nicknamed “Vision”, used a desktop 3D printer and printed the shell in four parts designed to snap together around Freddy. The printing process was long, with a single piece taking 50 hours to print, and it was later assembled like a jigsaw puzzle.
The surgeon, “Iron Man”, Roberto Fecchio integrated the prosthetic into Freddy’s surviving shell.
After the new shell was built, they asked a Brazilian artist Yuri Caldera to paint the white, plain 3D printed shell for a more realistic effect. Yet, the group conducted research first, to find a paint that wouldn’t wear away the carapace or cause damage to Fred’s health.
Caldera eventually added the finishing touch using natural colors and designs, specific to tortoises.
Although Freddy required a short operation to attach the shell, today, she has regained full mobility under her new hull. She appears like any other tortoise and is leading a happy life in her home with one of the Animal Avengers, veterinarian Dr. Rodrigo Rabello.
A YouTube video reveals the assembling of the shell, which is the first-ever fully prosthetic tortoiseshell, despite being a low-cost solution to improving animal function, having a material cost of $136.
Dr. Rabello stated:
“This is a mark in veterinary medicine. From now on we will have a new age. Especially when it comes to wild animals.”
He added: “It’s a total satisfaction, we’ll always strain to save a life, no matter whose.”