New 3D printing technology has given a rescued alligator in Phoenix, Arizona, a second chance at life with a brand new prosthetic tail.
The alligator, aptly named “Mr. Stubbs,” lost his tail several years ago on an illicit journey across the Arizona border. Mr. Stubbs, along with 32 other alligators and exotic animals, was found in the back of a semi-truck in 2005 whilst being smuggled by animal traffickers.
Rescuers soon realized that one of the alligators had a very distinguishing feature: he was missing a tail, resulting from a fight with a larger alligator. Mr. Stubbs was taken to the Phoenix Herpetological Society, where staff tended to him and tried to find him a replacement tail.
The Daily Mail reported the heart-warming story of the gator’s new lease of life, along with a video of him, with his new tail in action. For alligators, tails are like limbs, so losing his had affected Mr. Stubbs’ ability to do basic survival activities, such as swimming and moving. The clip below shows the transformation of the gator, who is now able to take advantage of his new prosthetic tail in ways that weren't possible before, like swimming underwater.
The Society in Phoenix had considered several options to help the disabled gator regain his mobility and enable him to get back in the water, but none proved to be particularly successful nor long-lasting. Mr. Stubbs’ first prosthetic was made from the cast of a dead gator’s tail of a similar size and build. This, however, transpired to be rather cumbersome, as each alligator’s center of mass and buoyancy is unique to itself.
It was clear that using a cast from another gator wasn’t going to give Mr. Stubbs the freedom everyone wanted. Subsequent tails had a similar outcome, as Mr. Stubbs – who was quite small and young when he was rescued – continued to outgrow each new prosthetic he was given.
That’s when Justin Georgi, an associate professor of anatomy at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona offered to lend his knowledge and expertise to the reptile’s case. Together with a master’s student of his, who needed a project, he decided to turn to 3D scanning to finally create the perfect tail for Mr. Stubbs, who's local fame was growing at an impressive rate.
They collaborated with a local company to use a specialized 3D scanner in order to create a bespoke tail for Mr. Stubbs, one that would be perfectly fitted and adapted to his size and shape. They first created a mold of the stump and were then able to create and print a clip-on tail for him.
The alligator has become somewhat of a local hero, as well as an unlikely advocate for human prosthetics users. Though he might not be as cute or fluffy as some other injured animals, people have said that seeing Mr. Stubbs' success has made them more comfortable with their own prosthetics.