The grave nature of bird on bird conflict was brought into the main-stream by the video of warring penguins that brutally tore each other apart late last year.(Warning, some animal brutality in the link.) Any doubt that the birds can be vicious has been laid to rest by examining the wounds and injuries that the animals often sustain during a real battle. Sometimes the offending party is driven away just by the pre-fight posturing of the other bird, but when things get serious, the loser can fly away seriously hurt. This is what happened when Lili, a red crowned crane living in the zoo in Guangzhou, China, got into an altercation with another one of her zoo mates.
As if it weren’t bad enough that Lili lost the fight, she also lost part of her beak and the damage was so extensive that she was unable to feed herself. In the wild, this type of injury would have been a sentence of certain death, but on the watch of the caretakers at Guangzhou Zoo, no such thing could be allowed to happen. Instead of giving her up, the zookeepers called in a 3D printing expert to help create a new beak for Lili so she could get back to happily fishing for her own meals.
To start with careful measurements of the fragment were taken, along with data that was gathered from other healthy bird beaks among the zoo’s collection of red-crowned cranes. A number of models were printed in plastic in order to ensure good fit and function. Once the design was finalized, a version was printed in titanium to be attached to the remaining portion of Lili’s upper beak. Titanium was the material of choice because of its strength and resistance to corrosion, an important factor as the cranes spend a great deal of time with their beaks in the water looking for fish and other tidbits. Lili could have as much as 50 years of life ahead of her and so a beak that could stand the test of time was of the utmost importance.