Söckchen was not expected to walk again after having a leg amputated. But the Secretary bird at a sanctuary in the German town of Walsrode has been rehabilitated thanks to a bit of ingenuity and a 3D printer.
Söckchen is able to run and fly just like the other birds that are being cared for at a sanctuary in the northwestern German town of Walsrode.
Take a closer look, however, and you'll notice a marked difference. The three-year-old Secretary bird, an African species known for its crane-like shape, is sporting a prosthetic leg.
"Söckchen used to be part of show group, but one day we found her in her aviary that saw that she had broken her left leg," Janina Buse, a worker at the Walsrode sanctuary, said. "Because the nerves had been so badly damaged, we were unfortunately forced to amputate the leg."
That was when a colleague of Buse's came across an association called e-Nable, which provides free 3D-printed prosthetics for children. A phone call later and e-Nable's co-founder Lars Thalmann was in Walsrode, taking the necessary measurements required to manufacture Söckchen's new leg.
Söckchen's leg was the first ever prosthetic his association had created for an animal. That is why is took two attempts to get it right. "The first prosthesis was a perfect imitation of Söckchen's leg, but it was a bit heavy and caused friction on her healthy leg." Buse said.
Thalmann then built a new leg, this time without the claws. "It looks much simpler and the bird is getting by great with it," according to Buse.
A question of science and ethics
Söckchen is not the first bird to receive a prosthetic limb. Even dolphins and turtles have undergone similar procedures in the past. Nevertheless, the procedure remains a controversial topic.
"Inflammation unfortunately continues to be a common problem with prosthetics," Christoph Kaatz, an ornithologist who looks after a stalk sanctuary in the town Loburg, said. "We have tried a range of different prosthetics, but the other leg always seems to become overloaded, causing inflammations. It really restricts the quality of life enjoyed by the bird."
Prosthetic limbs aren't just medically complex; their application also pose a lot of ethical questions," Peter Kunzman, a professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, said. "The most important question to ask is whether sporting a prosthetic limb brings any benefit to the animal - ultimately that's the main criteria."
According to Kunzman, new limbs should not be attached just so that the animal's life becomes bearable. "The animal needs to be happy in life."
However, Buse maintains that Söckchen's 3D printed leg hasn't been a burden. The spotlight might just shine on her once again.