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Using 3D Printing Technology to Save the Animals in 2017

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Keeper German Alonso straps 3D printed leg prothesis on the leg of secretary bird Soeckchen at the bird park in Walsrode, northern Germany.

As we prepare to usher 2017 out and welcome 2018 in, we’ve been reflecting on all of the ways that 3D printing technology has been used to make a difference, specifically in the lives of animals around the world. Even more specifically, the least likely of animals – while I’m a sucker for a good 3D printing story about our furry and fluffy house pets, I do have a special place in my heart for the animals that may be more easily overlooked because they don’t sleep at the foot of our bed…the stories about the creatures of our world that are just a little more unusual. So join me, if you will, as we highlight the past year’s 3D printing stories for the weirder animals, in no particular order.


The pangolin, or scaly anteater, is covered in scales made of keratin, and according to SavePangolins.org, eight species of these nocturnal animals can be found across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Pangolins will roll into a ball when threatened, to protect themselves and their young with their tough scales.

The pangolin has been the inspiration for several interesting 3D printing projects, but it is also a critically endangered mammal, as humans often poach it for food, fashion, and medicine; in addition, the pangolin’s habitat is deteriorating. 3D designer Amao is working to raise awareness for the unique animal by sharing his easy, 3D printable pangolin model, Save Pangolins, for free on the 3D printable file sharing platform Cults 3D.

“Pangolin is a really skillful and difficult work that I have spent a lot of time on it,” Amao said in January. “It has been passed at least six editions before presenting to all of you. What I was trying to challenge is an artwork with both perfect appearance and function.”

Amao used SketchUp to design the 3D printable pangolin, which he hopes will raise awareness of the adorable, scaly creature.


Since 2013, the bat population in the state of Kentucky has declined over 83%, thanks to an epidemic of a deadly bat disease and habitat destruction. Bats help stop the spread of some diseases, and rid the area of unwanted pests, by eating mosquitoes and other nocturnal bugs, so this could cost the state’s agricultural industry up to a billion dollars. But, a middle school FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics team, made up of five Whitefield Academy Robotics students, started a project this past winter to use 3D printing technology to restore the state’s bat population.

Teams have to come up with solutions for real-world scientific problems, and after two members from Team Blackout on a backpacking trip built a traditional wooden bat house, which gives displaced bats a safe environment to roost and raise their young, they decided to design and make a 3D printable bat house for the competition. The team got some help from Louisville engineering and 3D printing company 3 Space, and designed a modular bat house, using Autodesk Fusion 360 and a Voronoi pattern for the cling wall, that can be 3D printed in three sections, and also expanded. If you’re interested in making your own 3D printed bat house, you can download Team Blackout’s award-winning design for free on Thingiverse and GrabCad.


L-R: Beauty before and after receiving her 3D printed beak

From prosthetic beaks and bills to legs, 3D printed prosthetic limbs and devices have gone to the birds in 2017. A bald eagle named Beauty was the proud recipient of a 3D printed prosthetic after she was found in Alaska, by raptor biologist and director of Idaho non-profit Birds of Prey NW Jane Veltkamp, with a missing upper beak. Beauty was the subject of a nonfiction children’s book, Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle, co-written by Veltkamp and children’s author Deborah Lee Rose.

“I am particularly proud of the team I created to synthesize a solution driven by compassion, fueled by science and technology, that yielded a 3D printed solution for a bald eagle named ‘Beauty’. Her book Beauty and the Beak tells her true story meant to inspire children towards collaboration with multiple disciplines, problem solving and raptor conservation,” Veltkamp told 3DPrint.com this spring.

The majestic bird’s 3D printed beak was designed using dental molds from the remains of Beauty’s original beak, CAD software, and measurements from a different female bald eagle’s skull. Several 3D printed prototypes were tried and rejected before the final prosthetic was attached and adjusted in a three-hour surgery.


3D printing was also used to give turtles and tortoises a leg up this year. A loggerhead sea turtle at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego (UCSD), received a 3D printed brace to prevent her shell from curving down, while Seemore the sea turtle, who lives at the Mall of America, got a 3D printed upgrade to her shell. A US desert biologist has been working to protect vulnerable baby tortoises from desert predators with fake 3D printed shells, but there is no 3D printed turtle story more heartwarming, at least in my opinion, than that of tiny Patches, a 30-year-old, black-breasted leaf turtle at Zoo Knoxville.

Patches was injured last year by an an over-enthusiastic mate, and a small puncture wound near her right nostril, became infected and allowed moss and dirt to get in. But after a year of treating and cleaning the wound, zookeepers and veterinarians at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine wanted a more permanent solution, and found it in a tiny 3D printed face mask. The mask is held on by a screw, which goes through the puncture hole and in the top of her mouth, and is secured by a little composite resin.

Michael Ogle, the zoo’s herpetology curator, said, “She’s doing great. She looks a little odd, but she’s still a good-looking young lady.”

What did you think of these 3D printing animal stories – did I miss your favorite? Let us know – discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 


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