Earth has not lost so much life since the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, this time it cannot be attributed to an ice age, volcanic eruptions or asteroids: Humans are at fault.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, 99% of today’s threatened species are at risk due to human activities, which vary from habitat destruction to poaching. Should this trend continue, 30-50% of all species could face extinction in the next 50 years.
Governments, academics and conservationists worldwide are working to battle this decline, and 3D technology is offering new tools to assist in this pursuit. A few examples are listed below of how 3D technology is helping the animal kingdom in ways formerly not possible.
Giving animals a new hold on life
3D technology – printing and scanning – have had a large impact within the prosthetics field for humans, removing a lot of the time and materials needed. Rather than using plaster to make a messy and frequently inaccurate mold, doctors are now able to create a 3D model in minutes using 3D technology – 3D scanner in particular, and print a prosthetic in a few hours. 3D technology has done so much to improve speed and accuracy that we can now apply it to animals.
3D-printed parts have helped a range of different animals; from horses to turtles (Cleopatra the turtle received a 3D-printed protective layer for her weakening shell).
A Costa Rican toucan, Grecia, is just one of the newest examples. Due to the violent acts of local kids, he lost the top half of his beak. Thankfully, a successful crowdfunding campaign is allowing him to receive a prosthetic beak. Four local 3D technology companies, Grupo SG (an Artec 3D partner), Publicidad Web, Elementos 3D and Ewacorp joined the attempt.
In order to create a high-definition 3D model of the stump where the beak once was, a professional-grade 3D scanner was used. This is supplying the geometrical data needed for creating a prosthesis that will enable Grecia to feed and clean himself. Once a feasible material and attachment method are established, the procedure could be repeated for other birds with the same injury.
Protecting endangered species from afar
Drones equipped with cameras have come out as a key tool in the new 3D attempts, allowing humans to learn about animals without disturbing their natural environments.
Drones can be used to study and take images of places that are either too dangerous or too difficult to be explored in person. 3D technology software can then be used to stitch into 3D models of virtual reality landscapes using the many images obtained. These detailed visuals provide researchers with a whole new method of studying huge terrains and sharing information more easily with colleagues around the globe.
Owner of a wildlife reserve in Namibia, Dr. Friedrich Reinhard, is using this 3D technology to assist in rebuilding the black rhino population in Africa, which, due to poaching, has become endangered.
3D technology is allowing humans to battle the decline of animal populations on another front: poaching. There has been a rise since 2011 in the number of black rhinos illegally killed for their horns, a desired commodity on the black market.
To fight this trend, Pembient – a Seattle-based biotech company – is working to bioengineer keratins that are identical to the ones that make up organic rhino horn, and utilize the material to 3D print copies with the aim of flooding the black market, thus minimizing demand for this commodity.
3D technology is allowing us to tackle huge declines and assist animals one-on-one.