Injured Tortoise Who Lost Shell In Fire Receives Worlds First 3D-Printed Shell

Injured Tortoise Who Lost Shell In Fire Receives Worlds First 3D-Printed Shell

In 2019, Brazil experienced the most intense and highest number of forest fires in almost a decade. These fires created a wide variety of environmental and safety concerns for both humans and animals alike. One animal impacted by the blazes of Brazil, a tortoise named Freddy, has an especially unique story of survival and recovery, which is now inspiring new ways of caring for injured and rehabilitating animals.

The Tortoise With No Shell
Several species of tortoise are native and reside within Brazil. Whatever the species though, all tortoises share the unique anatomical feature of a shell. Each tortoise has a two-part shell (consists of the carapace and the plastron), which is relied upon for protection from predators, hunters, and the environment.

Knowing the value of a shell to a tortoise, veterinarians accustomed to ill and injured animals were absolutely blown away when they met Freddy. Freddy, named after the fire-damaged character Freddy Krueger, of Nightmare on Elm Street fame, lived through a terrible forest fire. As a result, she had suffered pneumonia, hunger, near-death and most obviously, lost 85% of her protective shell.

The Animal Avengers
Since tortoises cannot regrow a damaged shell, Freddy faced a life of long term disability without her hard outer shell until met the ‘Animal Avengers’. A self-named group of volunteers and specialists, the Animal Avengers consists of four vets, a dental surgeon and a 3D designer in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Before Freddy’s case, the team had already built a name for themselves in helping other species of animals regain function through 3D printing. Most notably, the team had designed and printed a series of beak prosthetics for toucans, a parrot, and a goose. Dr. Roberto Fecchio, a veterinarian, explained to the Daily Mail how the Animal Avengers was first established, stating:

‘We first came together as friends because of our common love of science and our love for animals. We soon realized we 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.”

Printing from Nature
The journey to helping Freddy started with studying and measuring other tortoise shells. Eventually the team decided that it was possible to 3D print a new shell for Freddy, using a corn-derived plastic and printing the shell in several pieces. Though the printing process was long, with a single piece taking 50 hours to print, and Freddy required a short operation to attach the shell, today she has regained full mobility under her new hull. The shell, showed in a YouTube video being assembled like a jigsaw puzzle, is being hailed as the first-ever fully prosthetic tortoiseshell and a low-cost solution to improving animal function (Freddy’s shell had a material cost of $136 USD).

After the new shell was built, a Brazilian artist by the name of Yuri Caldera offered to paint the white, plain 3D printed shell for a more realistic effect. Using natural colors and designs, specific to tortoises, Caldera has really added the finishing touch to the work of the Animal Avengers. From all appearances, Freddy now appears like any other tortoise and is leading a happy life in her home with Animal Avenger, veterinarian Dr. Rodrigo Rabello.


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