Bionic bird? Meet Mia, rescued from certain death by a plug-and-play prosthetic foot

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Mia 3.5 months after her operation. Credit: Vulture Conservation Foundation
Mia 3.5 months after her operation. Credit: Vulture Conservation Foundation

[Researcher Oskar Aszmann has given] Mia, a bearded vulture, a new foot. This is the first time a prosthetic of this level is specifically designed for an animal. In large birds, such as vultures, feet are essential to land, walk and even hold prey while eating, which means losing a limb quickly becomes a death sentence. However, the use of prosthetics in birds has so far been very complicated due to the extreme load they have to support.

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After analysing the foot configuration in vultures, the researchers opted for a durable, dirt-repellent and waterproof prosthesis simply shaped like a cylinder made from a material with shock-absorbing properties to make landing easier.

After the design was complete, the operation on Mia was carried out at the Center for Biomechanical Research at MedUni Vienna Rehabilitation to implant the prosthetic limb, followed by a period of rehabilitation back in Haringsee. “The bird made the first attempts to walk after just three weeks, and the prosthesis was under full load after six weeks. Today the bearded vulture can once again land and walk using both feet, making it the first ‘bionic bird’,” concluded Aszmann.

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