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Great Indian Hornbill gets 3D-printed prosthetic after developing skin cancer

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Posted at 8:51 AM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 12:09:24-04

TAMPA, Fla. — ZooTampa caregivers saved the life of a Great Indian Hornbill after she developed skin cancer.

"There were a number of specialists that were involved in this. It was an absolute amazing collaborative project," said Dr. Kendra Baker, an associate veterinarian at ZooTampa.

Veterinarians at ZooTampa worked with hospital physicians, biomedical engineers and experts from the University of South Florida.

Experts developed a 3D-printed prosthetic for the Great Indian Hornbill, named "Crescent," who developed skin cancer on the base of her casque. A casque is located on a hornbill's upper beak.

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"Squamous cell carcinoma is a common skin cancer found in humans and found in all different animals. This species of bird is actually predisposed to it," said Dr. Baker.

Squamous cell carcinoma is usually deadly in hornbills. The cancer was close to Crescent's skull and if removed, her sinuses would have been exposed. So experts decided to perform the surgery to remove the cancer and add a prosthetic.

Dr. Baker said the surgery was the first of its kind in the United States and second in the world. Crescent's prognosis is good and she is exhibiting normal behaviors such as preening.

"She is preening, which is a normal behavior for her where she takes the oils from her preen gland. It is a gland just above her tail and that’s actually what gives the beak and the casque that yellow color so what you can see with that prosthetic is it used to be white, but now it’s starting to turn yellow so that means she is doing her normal behaviors. It is really neat because it means she doesn’t recognize this as something that is completely abnormal," said Dr. Baker.

Great Indian Hornbills are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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The birds are native to Nepal, Bhutan, India, mainland Southeast Asia and Sumatra.

Their numbers are decreasing because of habitat loss through deforestation.

Crescent is doing well and guests at ZooTampa may visit her.

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This story was first reported by Julie Salomone at WFTS in Tampa, Fla.