When animal activist Nico Novelli took in Cleopatra, a leopard tortoise, she was suffering from malnutrition and had a deformed shell due to bone disease.
Cleopatra’s shell had “peaking” or “pyramiding,” resulting in a rigid and bumpy shell that could cause more health issues in the future.
“They climb on each other and that puts too much pressure on the points,” Novelli told 9 News. “If her shell was natural and smooth, that weight would be distributed across the shell so it wouldn’t put all the pressure on the peaks.”
WATCH: 3-year-old Kansas boy receives 3D printed prosthetic hand
Eventually, the peaks could wear down, making Cleo susceptible to infection.
Although the tortoise’s diet is back on track, Novelli wanted to find a better way to protect Cleo’s shell from further damage.
Roger Henry, a student at Colorado Technical University, heard about the animal’s predicament at a public meeting put on by Novelli’s organization Canyon Critters Rescue.
Henry and Novelli teamed up with a local 3D printing shop to create a plastic 3D model of Cleopatra’s own shell. Henry says he spent nearly 600 hours creating and tweaking the design.
READ MORE: U of T team works to create 3D-printed limbs for Ugandan children
The lightweight shell is attached to Cleo’s actual shell with Velcro, and the team plans to improve the design by adding straps and ventilation.
Cleo is only in her teens and is expected to live well into her 80s. She is also expected to grow up to three times her size, which means new shells will need to be printed for her in the future.
“I am grateful to all these people volunteering their time and energy to help me,” Novelli told 3DPrint.com. “At the rescue I don’t have the resources or funds to do something of this scale.”