Hornbill regains bird-pulling powers thanks to 3D printing

Balou before and after. Photos Texel Zoo

Balou, a male silvery-cheeked hornbill brought to Texel ZOO with a broken casque, has been fitted with an artificial replacement printed on a 3D printer by scientists at Utrecht university.

The casque, a large hard structure that sits on the beak of the animal and which it uses to impress females, was so damaged its life was in danger. ‘His veins were only protected by a very thin membrane, ‘ a spokesman for Texel Zoo said.

The bird, whose habitat is in East-Africa, was given to the zoo by its previous owners who hoped a solution could be found. After a CT scan to determine the right shape Utrecht university then 3D printed a new casque which was fitted in December.

After months of careful monitoring the bird has now recovered. ‘We waited because this operation has never been performed in the Netherlands before and we didn’t know if the casque would stay in place, or how Balou would react to it,’ the bird’s carers said.

However, the first thing Balou did when coming round from the anesthetics was to eat some of his favourite blue berries not minding his new appendage at all, a sure sign, his carers said, that Balou was on the road to recovery.

Balou’s original casque will eventually grow back but it’s a very slow process, the zoo said.

Texel Zoo is currently closed because of coronavirus but people who want help the zoo care for Balou can adopt him.

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