Plight of Injured Toucan Sparks Global Movement—and New Animal Planet Documentary

Animal Planet
Animal Planet / Animal Planet

Animal lovers and tech nerds alike are going to want to tune in for this one: On Wednesday, August 24, Animal Planet will premiere the documentary Toucan Nation, which follows the story of a wounded toucan named Grecia. 

When the toucan first came to veterinarian Gloria Soto’s office in Costa Rica, it was in bad shape: injured, starving, and at death’s door. “He was covered in blood and in a lot of pain,” Soto told mental_floss in 2015. “He couldn’t feed himself because the entire top half of his beak had been knocked off." (Grecia may or may not be male; because toucans are sexually dimorphic—males and females look the same—it can be hard to determine gender without a blood test.)

Toucan beaks are as functional as they are beautiful. Studies of the beak’s structure have shown that it serves as a sort of climate control system, cooling hot birds and helping them stay warm in the cold. Without one, a toucan would be far more vulnerable to the climate of its natural habitat.

Unfortunately, this was not Soto’s first abused wild bird. In her time at the Zoo Ave rescue center, the veterinarian has seen a lot of injured birds, many of which had been attacked by teenagers.

Soto and her colleagues cleaned the toucan up, nursed it back to health, and named it Grecia, after the village where it was found. Once Grecia was doing a little better, staffers snapped a photo. The picture of a beautiful bird with a sickeningly broken bill went viral. The image sparked protests and demands for new animal welfare laws. In Costa Rica and around the world, people were paying attention.

It also caught the attention of Luciano Lacayo, an exchange student studying in Costa Rica. Lacayo set up a crowdfunding campaign (warning: the linked page features an upsetting photo) to get Grecia a custom-fitted prosthetic beak. Donations poured in. The campaign eventually earned more than 200 percent of its original goal, which should be more than enough to get Grecia re-beaked. In June, it was also announced that Grecia is getting a new enclosure, which will be open to the public.

Grecia’s story continues on Animal Planet this Wednesday, August 24, at 10 p.m.. You can watch the trailer below.