Great Pied Hornbill with cancerous casque gets fighting chance with 3D-printed prosthesis

03 OCT 2018

A Great Pied Hornbill diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer has been given a fighting chance to survive, following a surgery to outfit it with a 3D-printed prosthetic casque.

On 13 July, Jurong Bird Park’s keepers noticed one of the Great Pied Hornbills in their care had an estimated 8cm wide gash on its casque, exposing the underlying tissue. 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.

The 22-year-old male Great Pied Hornbill rests with its new 46-gram casque post-surgery. The surgery took slightly over an hour on 13 September, and the hornbill is currently resting under close observation in Jurong Bird Park’s Avian Hospital’s outdoor ward, where it will remain till end of this month. The hornbill has been named Jary (pronounced as ya-ri), which means ‘a warrior with a helmet’ in ancient Norse.



The avian patient underwent a CT-guided biopsy at the Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital, to have a tissue sample from its affected casque extracted and examined. Following close examination of the casque’s tissue sample, it was confirmed that this was another case of cancer, and the veterinary team formulated a new approach to give the best chance for the bird to survive.

This new plan required some specialist veterinary intervention as well as some high-tech engineering gadgetry; to perform surgical resection of the casque, and to replace with a 3D prosthesis. The veterinary team engaged the help of Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Centre, NUS Smart Systems Institute, and NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing to produce the prosthesis, harnessing their 3D-printing capabilities. Honorary consultant Dr Hsu Li Chieh from The Animal Clinic was roped in to assess the 3D prosthetic models, and it took almost two months of designing and discussion before a model was deemed a perfect fit for the hornbill.

Dr Xie Shangzhe, Assistant Director, Conservation, Research and Veterinary Services, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said: “This case is a great example of how veterinarians and engineers can work together to utilise science and technology for the treatment of diseases such as cancer in all species, including birds. Together, we achieved the best possible outcome. 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. These natural behaviours are good indications that he has accepted the prosthesis as part of him.”

Jary is currently under close observation in the avian hospital’s outdoor ward, before its return to the Hornbills and Toucans exhibit end of this month. Great Pied Hornbills are classified as Near Threatened in IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, and can live up to 40 years on average. Jurong Bird Park currently houses four male and six female Great Pied Hornbills.

Close-up of Jary’s affected casque pre-surgery, which shows exposed tissue destroyed by the cancer.


Jary undergoing a CT-guided biopsy; a Tru-cut biopsy needle was inserted into part of the casque to extract a sample of the affected tissue.


Honorary consultant Dr Hsu Li Chieh from The Animal Clinic, in the process of removing part of Jary’s casque with an oscillating saw.


Dr Hsu Li Chieh using a drill guide to affix the 3D-printed casque onto Jary. This prosthesis will be on the hornbill until a new casque grows out.


Dr Xie Shangzhe, Assistant Director, Conservation, Research and Veterinary Services, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, delicately applying dental resin on Jary’s new casque to seal any remaining gaps.


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