PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — The artificial limb put on an African tortoise at Washington State University didn't come from a high-tech prosthetics lab. It came from Ace Hardware in Pullman.
The caster-style wheel cost around $7, according to the two veterinarians who installed it on the tortoise after amputating the reptile's damaged left front leg.
"We got several sizes to find the right height," said Dr. Nickol Finch, of the WSU veterinary teaching hospital.
The epoxy that attached the wheel to the tortoise's shell was also purchased at Ace, she said.
The 23-pound tortoise, named Gamera, was shown to the public Thursday. The male reptile has become a celebrity since photos of its artificial limb were released Wednesday.
Gamera ate grass and lumbered around the hospital's front entrance as cameras rolled. The tortoise was able to move across pavement, lawn and even bark.
"He's an ATT, an all-terrain tortoise," said Charlie Powell, spokesman for the veterinary hospital.
The tortoise was brought to the hospital in April by its owner, a resident of nearby Lewiston, Idaho. Its left front leg had been severely damaged, likely from a burn, and had to be amputated, Finch said.
Finch, who specializes in exotic animals, and Dr. Courtney Watkins, the surgeon, decided to install the caster-style wheel, similar to what is found on office chairs, as the best chance for the animal to live a long life. The surgery was performed two months ago, but the story is only now coming to light.
Gamera, named for the Japanese movie monster, moves well now and has been gaining weight. The owner has relinquished the animal to the hospital, where it will likely be used in teaching, Finch said. She said the experience has been uplifting.
"To have an animal come in with basically a death sentence before we took him, and now is moving around and eating like a little pig, is good for the heart," Finch said.
She said this is the first time doctors at WSU have put a wheel on a tortoise, although the procedure has been done elsewhere.
The 12-year-old Gamera is likely to live for decades, and get much bigger, Finch said.
"There's a good chance he will outlive me," she said.