KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – ”Patches”, a black-breasted leaf turtle at Zoo Knoxville, is now sporting a custom prosthetic mask created for her by veterinarians at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM). The plastic beak was created to protect a hole in her nostril from infection and to make eating easier for the tiny turtle.

The endangered turtle came to Zoo Knoxville in 2009 from Minnesota on a breeding recommendation of the Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort by zoos nationwide to save them from extinction. In August, 2016, the 30-year-old female developed a hole in her nostril due to an infection that grew to encompass a portion of her face. After successful treatment with antibiotics, the wound stabilized but Patches remained susceptible to further infections and had difficulties with food lodging in the area.

Patches’ veterinary team at UTCVM, Dr. Andrew Cushing and Dr. Kyle Snowdon, used CT scans to design the custom mask, which was printed using a 3D printer and fitted to Patches cheek using a screw anchored in dental resin in September, 2017.

Patches’ turtle caretakers at the zoo are happy to report she is eating with ease and is expected to continue to be a part of the Black-breasted Turtle Species Survival Plan breeding population. She is currently on public view at Zoo Knoxville.

“Keeping Patches healthy and thriving so she can continue to be a part of the breeding population for this endangered turtle is important,” said Michael Ogle, curator of herpetology and ornithology at Zoo Knoxville. “We are fortunate to have the UTCVM as our partner in providing our animals with the best possible care, which in this case involved cutting edge technology.”

Black-breasted leaf turtles are native to northern Vietnam and southeastern China. Their wild populations are being depleted by illegal poaching for the pet trade and the species is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the status of species. Zoo Knoxville works with a network of zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to save them from extinction.Press release courtesy of Zoo Knoxville.