Group saves burned tortoise with new 3D printed shell

A badly burned tortoise now has a new lease on life after she was outfitted with a 3D printed shell to replace the one severely damaged in a fire.

The animal rescue group the Animal Avengers in Sao Paolo, Brazil saved the tortoise by using 3D technology to create a shell made of biodegradable corn-based plastic.

3D designer Cicero Moraes says the animal was nearly killed in a brush fire in Brazil early last year. She was found along the side of a road and brought to a rescue center.

Veterinarian Rodrigo Rabello cared for the tortoise who animal caretakers named Freddy because the burns on her shell looked like the face of the horror film character, Freddy Krueger.

After examining the reptile, Rabello and his team realized it is a female, but then it was too late. The name had stuck, Moraes explains.

About 85% of her shell was destroyed and the remaining 15% fell off. Her body was exposed and even had maggots on the burn area, according to Moraes.

So a team of specialists in Sao Paulo, which included Moraes as well as four veterinarians and a dental surgeon began work to create a new shell for the animal.

Moraes explains the concept is relatively simple, though the execution is a bit more complicated.

It begins with 3D scanning from photographs and the result is four interlocking pieces to make up the shell. An artist hand-painted the prosthetic to resemble a real tortoise shell, with shades and designs to blend in with nature.

Veterinarians surgically attached the piece to Freddy.

The procedure has proven to be a huge success. Moraes says Freddy has "fully adapted to her new prosthesis" and is doing quite well.

Dr. Rabello periodically removes the shell, cleans it, and examines her body, to make sure there are no complications. And because of the extra care that she needs, releasing her back into the wild is not possible, according to Moraes.

The team says this is the first time a full 3D printed shell has been installed onto a turtle to rehabilitate all of its lost bone plates.

The Animal Avengers has also provided beak prosthetics to a handful of birds: two toucans, an araçari (a cousin of the toucans), a goose, and a macaw.

And currently there are two more toucans undergoing surgery in Brasilia, according to Moraes.

The process has to create these life saving prosthetics has been about trial and error.

After almost two years of failed attempts, "the first positive result we had was with Freddy!" Moraes explains.

He says they've experienced some fails and some wins, but says he and his team "are very motivated to continue working and perfecting" their techniques in their efforts to rescue injured animals.