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SCIENCE: There’s Now a Bionic Vulture

Bionic Vulture
(Image credit: Sarah Hochgeschurz et al., Scientific Reports / CC by 4.0)

A wild vulture recently had surgery in Vienna to implant a bionic leg.

While still a nestling, Mia suffered a major injury to her right leg. Her parents had used sheep wool to hold the nest together, and some of the fibers became tangled around the young vulture’s ankle. With her strangled foot starved for oxygen, her toes began to die.

Fortunately for Mia, a team of veterinarians treated her injury. However, the foot was beyond repair; an amputation left her with a right leg ending in a stump.

For a bearded vulture, lacking a foot is a death sentence, because the bird won’t be able to feed itself. With an 8.5-foot (2.6 meters) wingspan, these rare birds, listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are some of the largest predatory birds native to Europe, Africa and Asia. These vultures need strong legs to lift their own body weight and seize prey. “It was clear that the rare bird could not survive long in its current condition,” Dr. Oskar Aszmann, a reconstructive surgeon with MedUni Vienna who specializes in building prosthetics for humans, said in a statement.

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