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The Brazilian Rainforest Fires Rage On. But with Extraordinary Human Help, A Burned Tortoise Survives



  • Diana O. Potter


by Diana O. Potter

Although this story was first reported in 2015, it has surfaced again in the news as this year’s deliberately-set rainforest fires once more ravage the huge rainforest region of Brazil. It should be told over and over until people finally feel, and take action to end, the tragic agony of the millions of animals thoughtlessly burned and killed by humans who put profit above other living beings. 

The November-December issue of VEGWORLD Magazine carried two stories reporting on the huge, and hugely destructive, fires deliberately set in Brazil and Indonesia so farmers could graze more cattle. With this news update, we report from the animals’ perspective.

As the Brazil brushfires continued to devastate ever more thousands of acres and destroyed too many animals to count, one tortoise, her protective shell almost entirely burned away, lived through 45 days without food until she was found beside a road, barely alive. 

Rescued, she was ultimately restored to health, custom-made shell and all, through the creative and determined efforts of a passionately caring animal-rescue group — the Animal Avengers, a 3-D designer, four veterinarians, and a dental surgeon who combine technology with their love for animals. Their goal? To develop innovative ways to help wounded and maimed creatures that might otherwise have to be euthanized.

They named the female tortoise Freddy and immediately set about designing an artificial shell for her; without it, she couldn’t live even with the best care. Why did they think they could do such an amazing thing? Simple: They’d already constructed and fitted artificial beaks for seven badly hurt birds: three toucans, a parrot, and a goose!

The group — 3-D designer Cicero Moraes, veterinarians Roberto Fecchio,  Rodrigo Rabello, Sergio Camargo, and Matheus Rabello, and dental surgeon Paul Miamoto — created a computer program to design Freddy’s new shell, using 40 photos of another tortoise’s undamaged shell and 40 of Freddy’s shell (85% burned away). Then they 3-D–printed it in four separate, jigsaw-like pieces that fit around her to form a complete shell. Each piece took 50 hours to print!

Next, they surgically attached the shell to Freddy, who took to it immediately. But it was an all-over drab gray: What tortoise wants to go around looking like that? Enter Brazilian artist Yuri Caldera, who hand-painted the prosthesis to look like Freddy’s original shell, using as a model the tortoise whose shell they’d photographed for the 3-D construction.

Freddy now lives with Rodrigo Rabello, who says of the Animal Avengers’ extraordinary accomplishment, “This is a mark in veterinary medicine. From now on we’ll have a new age, especially when it comes to wild animals.”

No doubt he’s right. But it does seem that the real new age will be the one that values the lives of animals as much as those of humans. The one that doesn’t trade animal lives for profit. 

The one we’re still waiting for.       



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