Okay, so this is Smaug:
Smaug is a Komodo dragon at the Houston Zoo. He's clearly a fearsome beast. But about a year ago, zookeepers realized Smaug wasn't using his right front foot properly. He kept flipping it over and walking on his toes, which, um, ouch.
So his vets contacted the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at nearby Baylor College of Medicine and asked them to rig something up.
Yes, this is a feel-good animal prosthetic story. Deal with it.
“When a Komodo dragon picks up its foot, it slides forward and they fire their muscles and they are able to put their palm downward. What happened for Smaug is that he wasn’t able to fire his muscles to pull the foot forward, so as he picked up his shoulder to pull the foot forward, it stayed in the flex position and then he would land on it and roll his wrist underneath every single time he took a step,” Baylor's Jared Howell said in a statement. “He’s over 200 pounds, so that’s a lot of weight going onto that hand.”
After carefully measuring and imaging Smaug to determine the best design, Howell and the rest of his department produced a flexible, spring-loaded device that keeps the lizard's foot in a healthier position. When Smaug got a toe infection (not from the prosthetic, they say, but from the trauma he'd caused to his foot during months of walking incorrectly) they built a second device designed to keep his toes straight. Now he'll use both as needed until his foot is healed and strengthened enough that he walks correctly on his own.
Howell was happy to lend his expertise, and says the strange project was a fun challenge for the whole program.
“It’s a bit different," he said. "You don’t have human tissue, you have scales, different muscle functions and joints that all move in different ways. All of those things added to the challenge, but it was a great learning experience and a lot of fun."
Hopefully it won't be long before Smaug is back in business.
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