Animal Prosthetics: Amazing Stories of Rehabilitation
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Whether getting attacked by a larger predator, being harmed by man, suffering from disease or simply being injured on accident, there are many different ways in which animals can get hurt in the wild. While many animals are resilient following injury, the odds of survival certainly improve when researchers are able to help out. Take animal prosthetics and artificial limbs as an example. From artificial turtle flippers to new beaks for bald eagles to replacement dolphin tails, the development of animal prosthetics has come a long way in recent years, with the noble goals of determining the best ways to save injured animals and allowing them to regain as much functionality as possible.
Hardly Vain: Turtle Plastic Surgery
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Recently in Japan, a 20-year-old loggerhead turtle named Yu Chan was discovered entangled in fishing nets, with several of her limbs apparently bitten off by a shark. Rather than releasing the turtle into the wild, researchers have been working to attach artificial flippers made of soft plastic (polypropylene) and stainless steel supports to replace the missing limbs. At this point, figuring out how to construct durable turtle flippers has been the biggest obstacle, with one of the replacements falling off the turtle several times. Still, the ultimate goal is to move from these trials in the next couple of years with a proven, artificial flipper design that can be attached via surgery on Yu Chan and other injured turtles in the future.
Hope Springs Eternal for Winter the Dolphin
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Back in 2005, a bottlenose dolphin named Winter became entangled in a crab-trap line near Cape Canaveral, ultimately causing her to lose her tail and several vertebrae. While rehabilitating in Clearwater, Florida, Winter was fitted with an artificial tail that attaches to her body via a gel sleeve. The dolphin quickly learned how to swim and splash around with the prosthesis at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she has become a popular attraction. Just how popular? Winter the Dolphin even has her own Nintendo DS game, which includes various interactive features built around her amazing story.
Shot to Beak Turns to Shot in Arm for Bald Eagle
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In 2005, the chances of surviving didn’t look good for a bald eagle named Beauty, which was found wandering a landfill in Alaska with no means to feed itself. Sadly, the bald eagle had its beak shot off by a hunter. When recovered, Beauty struggled to rehabilitate, having to be force-fed food. Fortunately for the bald eagle, she was able to benefit from some compassion as opposed to the cruelty that injured her in the first place. A titanium, lifelike beak was designed for and fitted on the eagle, which was able to regain its ability to drink and feed itself. While the beak is not strong enough for the bald eagle to return to the wild and tear at prey, it at least allows Beauty to function better and regain her natural appearance while now living a safe life free of hunters.
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A couple of years ago in Cambodia, a young, male elephant named Chhouk was found with a severely infected, left front foot. Apparently, the foot was shot by a poacher. With not only his foot but his life in jeopardy, the elephant was rushed to a wildlife rescue center some 26 hours away, where a prosthesis was eventually attached to replace 12 centimeters of its injured limb. While the elephant prosthesis was originally too tight for Chhouk, it was quickly modified, now allowing the healthy elephant to carry out normal activities. It is believed that Chhouk is just the second elephant to receive an artificial limb.
Other Examples of Animal Prosthetics
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Other animals have benefited greatly from prosthetic devices, including some technologies that even fuse to original bone. In March of this year, a male German shepherd received an osseointegrated prosthetic (or fused limb) for a defective, hind leg during a revolutionary surgery performed at North Carolina State University. In 2008, a goat in Washington State had a similar limb attached to a front leg that was caught and broken in a rope. Related to but not specifically the leg, a young horse received a fake, glass eye after its mother accidentally kicked it in the face shortly after birth. Currently, researchers are conducting further research in the development of future animal prosthetics, including studying how cheetah legs are able to go from 0 to 65 mph in seconds with the goal of dealing better with lameness in animals, improving tracks for greyhounds and other animals that run often, and of course developing more effective artificial limbs.Edit This