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  • Bearded vulture Mia has become the first vulture in the world to have a artificial limb

Bearded vulture Mia has become the first vulture in the world to have a artificial limb

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MIa 3.5 months after her operation
MIa 3.5 months after her operation

In the latest series we are sharing some of the veterinary cases in bearded vulturessuch as the recent case of amputation in wild birds and Rin Ran’s cataract operation we are sharing the story of Mia. Due to a strangulation injury as a young chick, young bearded vulture Mia was left with a painful stump instead of a foot but thanks to pioneering surgery led by a team of veterinary and human surgeons, she became the first vulture in the world to have a prosthetic of this kind. 


Vet surgeon Sarah Hochgeschurz with Mia
Vet surgeon Sarah Hochgeschurz with Mia

Born in the Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network at the Richard Faust Zentrum Specialised Breeding Centre in Austria, Mia suffered an injury to her foot that caused the loss of her toes on her foot and she was left with a stump. Walking on this stump was clearly painful for Mia and she suffered injury each time she landed and walked on it, resulting in her developing a condition called bumblefoot as a result of putting excessive pressure on the remaining foot. Mia was in considerable pain and her keepers were considering euthanizing her, until veterinarian Sarah Hochgeschurz met her. 

Developing a prosthetic limb for Mia

Sarah first met Mia in November 2017 when visiting Hans Frey and proposed an innovative technique that could transform the quality of life for Mia, giving her a prosthetic limb using a technique known as osseointegration. This technique involves attaching the fixture for the prosthesis directly to bone. Whilst being carried out in human amputees successfully in a number of cases, Mia would be the first case of carrying out this technique in birds. 

Operating on Mia

The operation took place in May 2018 and board-certified anesthesiologist Attillio Rocchi made sure she would survive the surgery and wake up nicely. After 90 minutes surgery time, the team was finished with the operation. 

The team led by Sarah also included Rickard Brånemark, a human surgeon who has helped hundreds of amputees with this technique. To minimise the risk for Mia, Sarah took blood that might be needed for an emergency blood transfusion, carried out CT scans and practiced with the legs of dead birds to better understand the anatomy of raptors and practice the surgical procedure. 

Mia’s new prosthesis

Six weeks after the operation, Mia with her new prosthetic limb
Six weeks after the operation, Mia with her new prosthetic limb

Mia made a full recovery from the operation but the team had problems with prolonged skin healing and an infection of the skin. X-rays revealed signs of osteomyelitis. After another course of antibiotics, problems resolved after 4 weeks and skin healing looked really good. After 6 weeks, feather grew back on the limb again. On day 17 after the operation the team fitted Mia with a brand new prosthetic limb made of durable material that also acted to absorb the shock from landing after flying around her enclosure. Rene Roggenhofer, usually designs prosthetic limbs for humans,and helped with choosing the right materials. 

This innovative surgery on Mia has radically improved her quality of life and the bumblefoot condition on her remaining foot has been healed.

Mia’s remaining foot exhibiting bumblefoot before the surgery and after having made a recovery after the installation of her prostethic foot

Mia will now be able to contribute to the breeding network and hopefully raise young that will be released into the wild. 

To follow Sarah’s work check out the Avian Prosthetics website.

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