WALNUT CREEK (KPIX 5) — At the Lindsay Wildlife Experience rehabilitation hospital in Walnut Creek, an extraordinary effort is underway using cutting-edge technology to help a badly injured owl to live a more normal life.
And in doing so, it is bringing out the very best in humanity.
Her name is Pueo. At nine years old, she is considered a senior citizen among burrowing owls. She came to Lindsay Wildlife in February after her leg was broken. The limb eventually withered and fell off.
“For an animal out in the wild, that’s a death sentence injury,” said Lindsay Wildlife Curator of Animal Encounters Emma Molinare. “For an animal that’s in a zoological facility, you know, it’s a challenge.”
But did Pueo come to the right place. Because Molinare and the Lindsay Wildlife veterinary staff love a challenge almost as much as they do animals.
They recruited a team of tech designers — who are remaining anonymous — to create a 3-D printed prosthetic leg for Pueo. The first prototype looked more like a bird foot, but it kept getting snagged. So the designers switched to a concept similar to the “blades” worn by Olympic para-athletes.
“And for our last prosthetic try-on, Pueo actually stood on this prosthetic for the first time,” said Molinare. “Not for very long, but she was able to stand and move on it briefly, which was very, very exciting.”
The idea is to give Pueo something to stand on while she uses her good leg to eat and clean herself. But it’s only possible because Pueo, who was raised in captivity, is so calm around people. The bird can actually communicate with Molinare. If she goes to a certain corner of her cage, it means Molinare is supposed to go away and leave her alone.
“And being able to do that lets her trust me,” the curator said. “And trust is the most important part. If she doesn’t trust me, we can’t do this.”
Molinare said — to her knowledge — this the first time a raptor has been fitted with an artificial limb. But she says the fighting spirit of her little feathered friend left the staff with no choice but to try.
“And seeing her stand on this, even briefly, for the first time was just incredibly emotional and really exciting” she said. “It’s why we’re working on it; because we want to see her be more successful.”
Some may ask, why do this at all? Why not just let nature take its course? But the people at the Lindsay Wildlife Experience believe that, with so much of man’s touch on nature being harmful, it’s important to help wherever and however you can.
The Lindsay Wildlife Experience hospital was the first of its kind in the entire nation. You can follow the progress of Pueo on the facility’s Facebook page.