Citizen Reporter
Reporter
3 minute read
29 Oct 2021
2:57 pm

PICS: Macaw living his best life after groundbreaking beak surgery

Citizen Reporter

Max got into some scuffles with other macaws a few years ago at a bird sanctuary in the Western Cape and had his whole beak ripped off.

Max the macaw's new beak. Picture: Supplied

A macaw without a beak who never envisioned leading a normal life again has been given a second chance, thanks to the surgical interventions of the University of Pretoria (UP). 

A team led by veterinary specialist in dental and maxillofacial surgery at UP’s veterinary science faculty, Professor Gerhard Steenkamp, have allowed Max the blue and gold macaw to soon enjoy all that parrot life has to offer. 

Max got into some scuffles with other macaws a few years ago at a bird sanctuary in the Western Cape. In the first scuffle, his beak was damaged, but the second ripped his beak off. 

Macaw living his best life after groundbreaking beak surgery
Max’s beak stump. Picture: Supplied

This resulted in him only being able to eat soft food for years, his owner, owner of the sanctuary Trevor Glover said. 

Max’s story 

Max the macaw, who is estimated to be about 20 years old, was brought to the sanctuary in 2017, after his owner moved overseas. Glover said he was “aggressive towards the rescued birds”. 

During “hormone season” in 2017, Max attacked a macaw, which retaliated by biting his top beak and cracking the lift side, from top to bottom. 

He was then placed in a transition aviary with another injured macaw, but also got into fisticuffs with this macaw within three weeks. 

Max’s already weakened beak was completely ripped off. 

He was taken to Dr Brendan Tindall, who kept him and got him to eat soft food. Max consumed about 10 nutritious foods twice a day, and was eventually able to lap his food up with his tongue on his own. 

But the problem came months after as Max’s bottom beak grew straight out, with nothing to wear it down, eventually becoming longer than his tongue. 

This meant he could no longer reach his food. 

Journey to surgery 

Dr Tindall began cutting the bottom beak, but Glover decided to take Max to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Animal Hospital in Pretoria for a CT scan, in the hopes that there was enough beak and bone for a prosthetic beak to be attached. 

“The CT scanner at Onderstepoort could not produce enough detail, so arrangements were made to have Max scanned by Dr Craig Muller of Eugene Marais Radiology,” Steenkamp explained.

Impressions and a CT scan were sent to Phillip van der Walt from BunnyCorp, who developed and drew up the beak. Once the final drawings were done, someone had to be found to print the beak and make screws. 

Macaw living his best life after groundbreaking beak surgery
Max’s prosthetic beak fitted onto a plastic mould of his remaining top beak. Picture: Supplied

However, Covid-19 delayed surgery plans by nearly two years. 

Eventually, the beak was printed and manufactured, and the screws created, mostly by companies specialising in human orthopaedics. 

The moulds of the beak had to be made a few times, to see if Max’s beak stump had changed at all. 

Surgery lasted just over an hour, and Max has since returned to a specially built aviary created by Glover. 

Macaw living his best life after groundbreaking beak surgery
Max during surgery. Picture: Supplied

It was conducted at the Robberg Veterinary Clinic in Plettenberg Bay, with Dr Tindall administering the anaesthesia, Professor Steenkamp attaching the prosthesis, and former UP professor and specialist prosthodontist Professor Cules van Heerden assisting.

Macaw living his best life after groundbreaking beak surgery
The 3-D printed beak being fitted onto Max. Picture: Supplied

“I am very grateful for the help, kindness, advice and dedication given by the team led by Prof Steenkamp,” Glover said. 

“Max has been given a new lease of life and has gone back to relatively normal behaviour – eating, flying and climbing as he did before the injury. 

“My heartfelt thanks to all.”

Compiled by Nica Richards