An alligator in Arizona is getting a second chance at a normal life after receiving a new 3D-printed tail. The alligator, Mr. Stubbs, ʟᴏsᴛ his tail several years ago while being transported ɪʟʟᴇɢᴀʟʟʏ by a group of animal ᴛʀᴀꜰꜰɪᴄᴋᴇʀs. According to National Geographic, he was found in 2013 alongside other exotic animals in the back of a semi-truck and shortly afterward was transported to the Phoenix Herpetological Society.
Shortly after arriving in Phoenix, the staff at the herpetological society said that Mr. Stubbs would just roll over on his back and not be able to right himself when placed in deep water. They knew that the alligator could not go through life like that so they got to work trying to find a solution to Mr. Stubbs’ problem.
The team went through many unsuccessful methods before finding the perfect fit. In 2013, the scientists built a silicon prosthetic tail, but Mr. Stubbs outgrew it. Since he had doubled in size, the scientists didn’t want to ʀɪsᴋ getting close enough to take a plaster cast of his tail stump, so they decided to 3D scan him instead.
Justin Georgi, an associate professor of anatomy in Midwestern University in Arizona, and a student who had a master’s degree in Search of Project collaborated with STAX3D, a 3D printing company, so they could create a new specialized tail for Mr. Stubbs. The two used an Artec 3D scanner, so they could calculate the exact dimensions of Mr. Stubb so they could create a perfect attachment that was right for his weight, buoyancy, and his increasing body size.
Justin said, “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.”
Luckily, Mr. Stubbs appears to have taken to the prosthesis quickly, apparently integrating into the way he moves his body. He’d been fitted with the appendage for about five weeks when the gator tail-slapped a volunteer at the rescue facility, Georgi remembers.
“My initial reaction was, ‘That’s wonderful!’” Justin says, laughing. “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.”
Mr. Stubbs has, perhaps surprisingly, become an inspiration for some. People have told Justin that seeing the gator get about with his new tail has made them more comfortable with their own prosthetics.