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An alligator named Mr. Stubbs is going to have to look for a new name, now he's not so stubby anymore.
For years the reptilian creature had been living life without his tail after sustaining the injury while being illegally transported by a group of animal traffickers. The creature was facing a life on land as he struggled to stay upright in deep water.
When he first made it to the facility, the gator, who was nine at the time, became the first in the world to be fitted with a prosthetic tail. Made out of latex and silicone, the attachment was based on another alligator's tail but unfortunately it proved to be a bit clunky.
And as he grew up, so did his body size, and Mr. Stubbs ended up growing out of the tail and subsequent prosthetics.
Those working hard to help him were stumped (pun fully intended) - but thanks to advances in 3D printing technology that has developed over the past five years, a pair of researchers set about creating a specialised appendage for the gator.
According to National Geographic, Justin Georgi - an associate professor of anatomy at Midwestern University in Arizona - had a master's student in search of project, and together they collaborated with 3D printing company STAX3D to create Stubbs' new tail.
Using an Artec 3D scanner, they were able to perfectly calculate the gator's dimensions and create an attachment that was right for his body size, weight and buoyancy.
"They got the resolution where features even below the millimeter scale were visible and usable. Watching it happen there in real-time was incredible.
"With 3D technology, you can really custom fit or anticipate growth."
Thankfully, Stubbs absolutely adores his new tail and has taken to it well - he even used it to tail-slap a volunteer at the facility.
"My initial reaction was, 'That's wonderful!'" said Justin. "Of course I had to stop and ask if the volunteer was okay, too. But hearing that he was using that tail in a natural fashion was just a terrific and exciting landmark."
It's a marked achievement not just in terms of what this means for animal prosthetics, but for humans too. Many have found inspiration and hope in Stubbs' story that 3D printing is set to be the future for more accurate and accessible prosthetics.
Justin added: "That sort of thing [was] certainly secondary to the initial project of helping Mr. Stubbs, but it's also absolutely wonderful to hear."
Featured Image Credit: Caters
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