Written by Stephen Messenger
If there appears to be a glint of gratitude in this gator’s generously-toothed grin, it just might be because he’s feeling whole once again.
When the 7-foot-long American alligator first came into the care of the Phoenix Herpetological Society (PHS), a group devoted to reptile conservation, it was clear that his young life was off to a bad start. Likely after a skirmish with a larger counterpart, the rescued gator found himself short a tail and in need of some assistance. Thankfully, PHS was able to provide help to the injured animal, and a new name: Mr. Stubbs.
“When we first got him, if the water was too deep for him to touch the bottom, he would roll over onto his back and could not right himself,”PHS President Russ Johnson says. “We had to teach him to swim by dog paddling, like you teach a child to swim.”
Despite his new canine-esque swimming ability, it soon became clear that Mr. Stubbs would never thrive without a tail. So, with that in mind, a team from the Center for Orthopedic Research and Education (CORE) was enlisted to help craft a prosthetic — the first of its kind in the world.
From Arizona’s CBS 5 News:
The CORE Institute created high-resolution molds of the alligator’s stump, as well as a full tail of appropriate size. The prosthesis was covered in Dragon Skin, a lightweight, flexible silicone material often used for special effects and animatronics in films, as well as prosthetics.
Next, a replica of the full tail was married to a mold of Mr. Stubbs’ posterior. The final step was creating a harness system to securely affix the new prosthetic tail to the alligator’s body without creating any pressure points that could cause discomfort or skin breakdown over time.
According to his rescuers, Mr. Stubbs seems to have taken to his new tail, though he still has some work to do.
“After almost eight years, we need to ‘unteach’ him the dog paddle so he can swim like a normal alligator,” says Johnson.
This post was originally published by TreeHugger.