A tortoise that was suffering from an apparently agonizing disease that caused its shell to wear away has been custom-made a 3D printed shell to protect her own.
Cleopatra, a leopard tortoise who was taken by the Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue in Colorado, suffers from a metabolic bone disease known as pyramiding, or peaking.
It causes the individual scutes, or patches, on the shell to stand out prominently and is caused by a lack of Vitamin D and calcium.
Tortoises tend to clamber over each other when displaying playing or mating behaviour and this caused Cleopatra’s delicate shell to become damaged and worn, leaving her susceptible to infections.
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Roger Henry, a student at Colorado Technical University, was moved by the plight of the tortoise and spent hundreds of hours perfecting the design for a 3D printed protected shell that would protect Cleopatra.
He told The Denver Post that it was “a very good feeling” to see the shell working successfully and that it was "fantastic to know this tortoise is going to be able to recover from its malnutrition."
Nico Novelli, the owner of the Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue, told The Huffington Post that the tortoise was likely fed a diet too high in protein before she arrived at the centre.
“I wish people would educate themselves more before buying tortoises as pets,” he said.
He added that Cleopatra’s situation was “not an exception to the rule” but “almost standard.
Currently she only needs the shell when she’s among other tortoises and a Velcro strap is used to keep it secured.
It is not expected to be a permanent addition as the damaged parts of the shell are expected to heal over the course of the next few years, so long as proper diet and temperature conditions are maintained.
Several species of tortoise are native to Colorado and Novelli said that people often spot them in the wild and adopt them.
They are often fed the wrong diet and can encounter severe trouble readjusting to life in the wild after owners grow tired of them.
He also said that the problem was exacerbated by pet shops often failing to disclose the true costs of ownership, which can range up to several hundred dollars per month.
The Leopard Tortoise gets its name from the distinctive mottled marking on the top of its shell and typically between 80 and 100 years.