A Lego ‘Wheelchair’ Lets This Tiny Tortoise Walk Again
Like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, Blade walks slowly but surely. The 4.4-ounce reptile has a metabolic bone disease that makes him too weak to carry his shell, so a vet built him a custom Lego walker.
When Blade’s owner saw that the tortoise wasn’t moving as much as her other pets, she took him to the local animal hospital.
“We mounted Lego wheels on the tortoise Blade because he had a bone metabolism illness and his shell was too heavy and he had a loss of muscles,” said Bielefeld, Germany–based veterinarian Carsten Plischke, according to CNET. “That’s why he couldn’t pick up himself and walk anymore. The bones were like rubber, and the musculature had clearly diminished.”
The device—inspired by Plischke’s son’s toys—has four wheels that allow Blade to use his legs while the Lego pieces bear the weight of his shell. The idea is that it will work like training wheels: When Blade gets stronger, he won’t need the “wheelchair” anymore.
While Blade has been given the chance to recover, other tortoises aren’t so lucky.
Tortoises and turtles in the wild face threats such as climate change, pollution, hunting, and fishing equipment (it’s not uncommon for the reptiles to drown or lose body parts from getting trapped in fishing nets). There’s good news: Conservationists have had great success recently. With help from “ecosystem engineers,” the giant Galápagos tortoise made a big comeback this year after decades of overhunting and habitat loss. And one Israeli design student fashioned an innovative solution (inspired by fighter jet wings) to help out a tortoise that lost its flippers from getting tangled in a net.
“For people there are walkers, rollators, or prostheses, but for animals there are no companies that produce something like that,” said Plischke. “The size variation of animals means they can’t establish uniform products. So you have to come up with creative solutions. Every animal needs its own treatment.”