In an incredible achievement, a team led by Dr Oskar Aszmann of Medical University of Vienna implanted a bionic leg to a wild bearded vulture from the Owl and Bird of Prey Sanctuary in Haringsee, Austria. This is the first instance where a metal bionic leg has been implanted in a bird.
In a press release, the team that performed the lifesaving rare surgery apprised they had turned to a technique known as osseointegration which is basically a direct skeletal attachment.
"This (fully integrated bionic arm prosthesis) is ready-to-use and is described as "Plug and Play". Although all bionic aids have so far been used in humans, the technique known as osseointegration has now been used for the very first time in a bearded vulture – the creature was given a new foot," the statement read.
The Medical University team believed that in such large birds as that of a vulture, the loss of limbs results in loss of the ability to walk and ultimately to death from malnutrition.
"However, feet are vital tools for a vulture, not only for landing and walking but also for holding their prey, so that their feet have to withstand various loads," a researcher said in a statement.
Bearded Vulture Mia's ankle became entangled with a sheep's wool fibres which her parents used to build the nest. Mia suffered major injuries in her right leg where her toes started to die due to lack of oxygen. The part was injured and strangulated because of sheep's wool
"Following a clinical visit, it was clear that the rare bird could not survive long in its current condition. We designed and fabricated a special bone implant that could be surgically attached to the stump."
Together, the researchers developed a rare bone-implant capable of being attached to the affected right limb. By the method of osseointegration, external parts of the artificial metallic body part are directly connected to a bone anchor which guarantees solid fixation to the skeleton. Dr Aszmann's team recently relied on this technique and stated that this practice has been performed on humans previously but Mia is the first bird with a successful bionic leg restoration.
The surgeons have installed the metal anchor into Mia's right limb where her ankle was attached. Over time the bone grows into the metal which provides anchor, "integrating" the metal rod into Mia's skeleton.
Also, the vulture's bionic leg is a black rubber cylinder instead of being shaped like an artificial bird foot. This will provide her grip on surfaces and act as a shock absorber too.
"The cylindrical design is intended to minimize the potential of her twisting and damaging her leg when it got caught on branches, and the metal anchor integrated into the bone will provide Mia a high level of tactile feedback," Dr Aszmann said in the statement.