Lame duck story: thanks to science, disabled mallard gets prosthetic foot
Here’s the usual heartwarmer to end the week. And I can’t refrain from saying this: religion and prayer aren’t going to fix a duck’s amputated foot. But science and 3D Printing can!
Last November a male duck named Buttercup was born (in a high-school biology lab!) with a deformed and backward-pointing foot. He was transferred to the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Tennesee, whose employees decided to help him. The foot was was amputated, and then the kindly people at the Sanctuary went into action
After Buttercup had his foot amputated in February, Garey — a software engineer by trade — started looking into options for a replacement limb. Sure, Buttercup could have a peg leg; but what if Garey could replace the entire foot?
After shopping around for a service, he found 3D printing company NovaCopy, which agreed to donate its services to helping Buttercup walk again. Together, using photos of the left foot of Buttercup’s sister Minnie, they designed a brand new left foot for Buttercup.
The computer design:
Because the foot needs to be flexible, the usual plastics used in 3D printing aren’t viable. Instead, NovaCopy printed a mould, which will be used to cast a silicone foot for the lucky duck, creating several iterations of the design to come up with the perfect one. It will be attached to his foot via a silicone sheath.
“This version will have a stretchy silicone sock instead of the finger trap, which will roll up on his leg, be inserted into the foot and then have a fastener in the bottom,” Garey said. “If you saw Dolphin Tail, this material is similar to the WintersGel that they used.” WintersGel is a prosthetic liner that grips the amputated limb.
Of course Buttercup has his own Facebook page, which you can follow as the prosthesis is attached. The final fitting should be within two weeks.
Now maybe some of you are thinking, “Why all this fuss about a prosthetic foot for a duck? Why not just eat it?” But I believe that ducks enjoy their lives, and can experience suffering and happiness. And I can’t help but believe that if this duck had a choice, it would want a new foot.
As an evolutionary biologist I see no qualitative distinction between the suffering of humans and animals—humans can just express it more emotively. And so I find it heartwarming that people are volunteering time and resources to improve the life of a single waterfowl.