Jurong Bird Park's male great pied hornbill with cancer undergoes surgery, gets prosthesis

The Animal Clinic’s Dr Hsu Li Chieh using a drill guide to affix the 3D-printed casque onto the hornbill. (PHOTO: WRS)

A 22-year-old male great pied hornbill diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer has been given a second lease of life, following a surgery to replace its casque with a 3D prosthesis.

Jary (ya-ri), one of four male and six female great pied hornbills at Jurong Bird Park, was spotted by its keepers on 13 July with an “estimated 8cm wide gash on its casque” that exposed underlying tissue, said the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) on Wednesday (3 October).

The casque refers to the decorative growth on the upper mandible of the bird’s bill.

Jary, which means “a warrior with a helmet” in ancient Norse, underwent a CT-guided biopsy on its casque at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital, where it was confirmed that the bird suffered from cancer.

“The veterinary team formed a guarded prognosis as the park has seen two similar cases in the past. Of these two cases, one underwent chemotherapy, which unfortunately did not save the bird, while the other hornbill’s cancer had progressed too rapidly for treatment,” added the WRS, which manages the Singapore Zoo, the Night Safari, the Jurong Bird Park and the River Safari.

The team decided to perform surgery on Jary’s casque and replace it with a 3D prosthesis.

To produce Jary’s prosthesis, the veterinary team engaged the help of Keio-National University of Singapore (NUS) CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Centre, NUS Smart Systems Institute, and NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing.

The Animal Clinic’s veterinary orthopaedic specialist Dr Hsu Li Chieh was roped in to assess the 3D prosthetic models.

The WRS said that it took almost two months of designing and discussion before a 46g model was deemed a perfect fit for Jary. The surgery took slightly over an hour on 13 September.

The great pied hornbill will don the prosthesis until a new casque grows out.

“Jary was eating normally the day after the surgery, and recently also started rubbing the prosthetic casque on its preening glands, which secretes yellow pigment,” said Dr Xie Shangzhe, Assistant Director, Conservation, Research and Veterinary Services, WRS. “These natural behaviours are good indications that he has accepted the prosthesis as part of him.”

Jary is now under close observation in the avian hospital’s outdoor ward and will return to the Hornbills and Toucans exhibit by the end of this month.

Great pied hornbills or great hornbills, which can live up to 40 years on average, are classified as near-threatened in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. The species is native to Southeast Asia and the India subcontinent.

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