SINGAPORE: A hornbill at the Jurong Bird Park, diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, has been given a fighting chance to survive - in the form of a 3D-printed prosthesis.
Jurong Bird Park keepers first noticed an 8cm-wide gash on the Great Pied Hornbill's casque (a helmet-like structure on the top of its beak), which exposed the underlying tissue, on Jul 13.
Upon examination of the casque's tissue sample, the 22-year-old male bird was diagnosed with cancer, said Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which manages the park, on Wednesday (Oct 3).
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In order for the bird to survive, it required specialist veterinary intervention for the casque to be replaced with a 3D-printed prosthetic casque.
Wildlife Reserves Singapore’s vets enlisted the help of Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Centre, NUS Smart Systems Institute and NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing to produce the prosthesis.
It took almost two months of designing and discussion before a perfect fit for the hornbill was produced.
“This case is a great example of how veterinarians and engineers can work together to utilise science and technology for the treatment of diseases such as cancer in all species, including birds," said Dr Xie Shangzhe, Jurong Bird Park’s assistant director of the veterinary department.
The hornbill, christened Jary (pronounced ya-ri), which means "a warrior with a helmet" in ancient Norse, is currently resting under close observation at the Jurong Bird Park's Avian Hospital.
According to Dr Xie, the hornbill was eating normally the day after the surgery, and has also started exhibiting natural behaviour - meaning that the bird has accepted the prosthesis as part of it.
There have been two similar cases of hornbills with cancer at Jurong Bird Park, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said. One underwent chemotherapy but died, while the other hornbill's cancer had progressed too rapidly for treatment.
Great Pied Hornbills, which live up to 40 years on average, are classified as near-threatened in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. Jurong Bird Park is home to Southeast Asia's largest collection of hornbills, and it currently houses four male and six female Great Pied Hornbills.