Image: Lucky the turtle

Science News

8 amazing bionic animals

Click to view amazing examples of how technology has helped animals.

Image: A 48-year-old female elephant named Motala walks on her newly attached prosthetic leg at the Elephant Hospital in Lampang province

Tripod no longer

Meet Motola, a 48-year-old female elephant who lost her leg 10 years ago after she stepped on a landmine at the Myanmar-Thai border. After three years wearing a muscle-building trainer, Motola received her permanent prosthesis in August at the Elephant Hospital in Northern Thailand, courtesy of the Prostheses Foundation.

As Motola continues to work with her new appendage, her caregivers look forward to the day she walks with Mosha, a three-year-old female elephant who who received her "new leg" following a landmine accident two years earlier.

Phichaiyong Mayerku / X01246
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Fuji, a bottlenose dolphin, jumps during

Bottle nose, bionic tail

Fuji, a 28-year resident of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan, is the beneficiary of rubber tail fluke designed by volunteers at Bridgestone tire manufacturer. The female bottlenose lost 75 percent of her tail from amputation required to stem a disease.

After a three-dimensional analysis of dolphin movement using the same technology used to develop tires, Bridgestone engineers created several prototypes. The third version, made of two durable, living-tissue compatible rubbers, silicone and the patented “Everlight Moran,” returned Fuji’s ability to swim with ease, even allowing her to jump completely out of water.

Afp / AFP
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Mixed-breed Collie Wears a Prosthesis

Dog-gone leg

Eight years ago, an inspired maker of human prosthetics came to the aid of mixed-breed collie named Maulee after she lost her paw in a wheat-cutter accident in Shady Dale, Ga.

Daniel Holzer, owner of Able Prosthetic Care of Conyers, Ga., boned up on canine anatomy, observing gait and range of motion. Copying the Flex-Foot design, the prosthesis used by many athletes, Holzer fashioned a new front leg for Maulee using a one-inch thick piece of wood, later adding a strap to guard against the brush she encountered during her romps, and latex to prevent slipping.

The prosthesis was an overall success, though it had to be replaced. It seems her fellow canine housemates used the original as a chew toy.

Erik S. Lesser / Getty Images North America
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Image: Beauty

Eagle beak

Three years after she was rescued from an Alaskan landfill, slowly starving to death due to a bullet lodged in her beak, a 7-year-old bald eagle named Beauty received a gift that made her life a whole lot easier. Engineer Nate Calvin spent 200 hours perfecting an appliance for the bird, whose lost upper beak exposed her sinuses and tongue, making it difficult for her to eat, drink and preen. A dentist, veterinarian and other experts joined the project, which included computer scans of actual beaks to build an accurate mold.

Young Kwak / AP
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Image: Pierre the Penguin

Penguin wetsuit

Pity Pierre. He’s the 26-year-old African penguin at the California Academy of Sciences whose senior feather loss left him high and dry while his 19 tankmates frolicked in the water.

"He was cold; he would shake," Pam Schaller, a senior aquatic biologist at the academy, told the Associated Press. So she turned to a dive-gear supplier Oceanic Worldwide for a solution. After several fittings, Pierre’s new Velcro-fastened vest was deemed a success. The senior penguin was not rejected by his peers, as was feared. What’s more, with Pierre finally warm, his feathers started to return.

Eric Risberg / AP
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Image: Allison, a rescued green sea turtle

Circling sea turtle

A suspected shark attack left Allison, a 5-year-old sea turtle, with a single flipper and a life spent swimming in circles. Now she has her own sharklike dorsal fin -- a carbon-fiber rudder on the back of a black neoprene suit that covers three-quarters of her body, and allows her to swim in any direction.

Since Allison didn’t have enough stumps remaining, staff at Sea Turtle Inc., a Texas nonprofit group that rehabilitates injured sea turtles, knew prosthetics were a no-go. Canoe physics became the key scientists used to come up with enough equations needed to fit Allison with new suits, all the way up to the 600 pounds she may very well achieve.

Eric Gay / AP
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Image: Lucky the turtle

Sliding box turtle

It didn’t take a team of scientists to come up with a solution to help Lucky, the Petaluma, Calif., turtle believed to have lost his front legs to a backyard racoon attack -- just one creative veterinarian surgeon.

Hesitant to consider euthanasia after witnessing Lucky’s will to live, owner Sally Pyne still wasn’t sure how Lucky would survive after surgery with only two back legs to move about. Lucky for Sally (and Lucky), Dr. Robert Jereb had plenty of experience patching up wounded turtles, using everything from bondo to fiberglass. A trip down the hardware isle brought inspiration in the form of furniture sliders. Propelled by his back legs, Lucky is now able to skid with ease.

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Image: Boonie the goat

Getting your goat

If anyone’s benefitting from the growing field of animal prosthetics, it’s Boonie the Washington State goat. The 4-year-old farm animal inadvertently wrapped a rope around his front right leg, and the loss of circulation led to the leg’s loss. But Boonie’s owner, Mara Peterson, wasn’t about to leave her 190-pound pet limping.

After some research, she found OrthoPets, a 6-year-old pet orthotic and prosthetic supplier in Denver. Boonie’s veterinarian, Dr. Krystal Grant of Tahoma Veterinary Hospital outside Spanaway, Wash., told Tacoma’s News Tribune that Boonie isn’t alone. He’s the third or fourth goat she’s seen receive a prosthetic leg.

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