Meet the Australian industrial engineer creating life-saving devices for the natural world.
When Girius Antanaitis was a child, he remembers seeing a rosella fly into one of the windows of his house. “It was one of the saddest things,” Girius recalls. “I picked it up and it was still alive. I was going to take it to the vet, but it died in my hands.”
The memory stuck with him. There probably wasn’t anything that could be done for the bird, but the experience led Girius down the path he’s on today – developing fit-for-purpose surgical solutions for wildlife.
The industrial engineer has invented a range of life-saving equipment for vets, zoos and wildlife hospitals: a dental gag for wombats to help vets manually grind down the animals’ back teeth; a one-metre-long intracardiac needle to humanely euthanise beached whales; avian orthopaedic surgery kits to help injured birds.
“The avian devices that I develop and design are small for a reason: to put as little stress as possible on the birds,” he says of the micro-skeletal fixation pins he creates from his North Balwyn workshop. “Imagine you've got a broken arm and someone puts heavy hardware onto your arm so it could heal – it's not comfortable and it will impinge on the recovery. My aim is to make the parts as small and lightweight as possible, so the birds have reduced stress on their wings and the recovery is faster.”
Girius works with a range of different animals, from huge whales to the tiniest of birds. “Every single project is unique. I need to spend a lot of time learning the physiology or the anatomy of the animal from scratch. And then the whole design process. It's an interesting challenge,” he says. “When I see the finished product being used, that really gives me satisfaction that I've not wasted my time. And I know that this creature will live now, because of something that I have made. Even if it's just one animal, for me that's enough.”
One of Girius’s most memorable projects was working with a sun bear, Hitam, in Borneo. She was poached as a cub, taken away from her parents, and sold as a pet. Her teeth were ground down and she wasn’t eating properly; as such, she grew up with a malformed pelvis. For six years, she was in constant pain. She couldn’t even go to the toilet.
Girius got a phone call from two specialists in Queensland – Stephen Van Mil and Dr Gordon Corfield – requesting his services to develop an implant to extend the bear’s pelvis. Without the procedure, she would almost certainly be euthanised.
“No other companies wanted to take it on because of all the steps involved, but I thought it would be a good challenge and something I’d like to take part in,” he says. “I funded the project myself, came up with the concept and designed the component – a locking triple pelvic osteotomy implant. Right now, the sun bear is living pain free at Orangutans Foundation International in Borneo.”
He’s one of only a few people in Australia specialising in developing devices to help treat wildlife. It’s not particularly profitable and requires huge investments of time and skill throughout the design, development and prototyping stages. But it’s something Girius is passionate about.
“I'm a specialist in this area and I'm proud of that. This is something I can do that will not only help the animals, but the veterinarians too; using these devices makes their life easier, and it makes the prognosis of the animal better,” he says.
“I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to expanding my knowledge base and helping the animals that people either forget or choose not to assist with,” Girius says. “I do this because no one else does it, and I know that it's solution based and those solutions make the world better.”
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