Life-sized 3D printed giraffe skull is an eye-catching educational tool

A 3D-printed replica giraffe skull is being used to increase awareness and understanding of giraffes and their precarious environment.

The idea for the impressive true-to-life replica skull came from Mary Dagg, CEO of the Anne Innis Dagg Foundation. Mary’s mother Anne, whose fascinating life is featured in the documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes, created the foundation to raise awareness and funding.

Anne and Mary Dagg

Anne and Mary Dagg

In a quote on the foundation website, Anne explains, “My lifelong passion has been and continues to be to help giraffes to survive and thrive in the wild. We must focus on conservation of their environment, which is currently being compromised on many different levels. With giraffe numbers now in peril, we must act and act quickly.”

Idea became reality with support from Javelin

Mary understood the potential impact of having a giraffe skull on display, both to attract attention when they exhibited at special events and to help foundation volunteers teach people about the giraffe’s unique and remarkable features.

She quickly discovered that a real skull would cost many thousands of dollars and would be too fragile to transport and handle. After reading news stories about 3D-printed leg braces and prosthetics for giraffes, Mary wondered if a replica skull could also be 3D-printed.

She reached out to Javelin – A TriMech Company, known for its expertise in 3D design and 3D printing. The Javelin team provides advanced manufacturing services at its headquarters in Oakville, Ontario, using a variety of technologies.

Mary’s first thought was to laser scan a real giraffe skull, then print it. Javelin’s Professional Services Manager Conner Janeteas advised Mary that there was a less expensive option more suited to a charitable organization’s budget – he suggested she search online to find existing CAD files.

Mary appreciated and took that advice, finding and purchasing design files that included 19 angles of a seven-year-old male giraffe skull.

“Javelin has been fantastic,” she said. “They were approachable and accommodating. I told Conner, it has to be life-sized, which means two feet across. He immediately understood why and how to make it happen. And he found ways to keep our costs reasonable.”

To further explain why the replica skull had to be true-to-life, Mary noted that there are generally three things (besides its impressive size) that people are most interested in learning about when they get close to the skull: the teeth and how giraffes chew and eat; the ossicones, which are horns made of bone and used for fighting; and the huge eyes, set at the side and useful for spotting predators from a long distance away.

Large-format 3D printing

The replica skull was printed on the Stratasys F900, the most powerful fused deposition modeling (FDM) system available. It’s a large-scale, manufacturing-grade production printer with a build envelope that measures 36 x 24 x 36 inches and has 18 cubic feet of build volume. The system allows for larger single builds, eliminating the need to spend time printing separate parts and assembling them.

3D Printed giraffe skull

3D Printed giraffe skull

The print material was ABS-M30, and the larger Stratasys Xtend spools allowed for continuous printing. Conner said that having the F900 made his team confident that they could accommodate the large print and turn it around quickly, on the first try.

“We went for an ambitious orientation to get the best surface finish possible, while still leveraging a thicker slice height for time savings. We didn’t think twice about taking a risky approach with orientation, given the reliability we have come to love about our Fortus systems. Ultimately, this let us provide the best quality part we could in the allocated timeframe and pricing window.”

Education leads to action

Mary’s goal is to visit as many schools as possible. She and other volunteers have exhibited at African Lion Safari, an Ontario wildlife park, to talk to visitors about the impact of climate change on animal habitats and how local actions can have global impact.

Anne Dagg foundation event at African Lion Safari

Anne Innis Dagg Foundation event at African Lion Safari

“Education leads to action,” Mary said. “If you know something, you’ll do something. We educate young people in a fun way, showing off the giraffe skull and telling them good news stories. Yes, the habitat is changing but we are making a difference and you can, too.”

giraffe skull at African Lion Safari event

Giraffe skull at African Lion Safari event

Foundation fundraising has led to the training of four dogs used to sniff out giraffe meat or bones being smuggled by poachers through airports. Funds have also been used to arrange bus trips for kids in the rural areas near safari parks to go see giraffes. Most of those children have never even been in a car.

What does a scientist look like?

In 1956, when Anne was 23, she took a solo, year-long trip from Canada to South Africa, becoming the first western researcher to study giraffes in the wild. For years after, Anne worked as an assistant professor of zoology and published ground-breaking research papers. Despite her experience and expertise, she was denied tenure at two Ontario universities – solely because she was a woman.

Because of those disappointing career barriers, Anne put her passion for giraffes on the side burner and went on a quest to ensure equal opportunities for women in science. In 2010, others studying giraffes sought her out and her work began to get the recognition and celebration it deserved. One result is the feature documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes.

When Anne and Mary talk to school children, they ask them, “What does a scientist look like?” The children usually share a description of a middle-aged man wearing a white lab coat and looking disheveled. They then tell the kids to look around at their classmates and recognize that any one of them could be a scientist; it doesn’t matter what you look like.

Anne’s Junior Giraffe Club is open to kids aged 7 to 17 from nations and cultures all over the world with a passion for giraffes and giraffe conservation. Adults in the fields of zoology and science serve as mentors.

To learn more about advanced manufacturing services available within the TriMech family of companies, visit

The Anne Innis Dagg Foundation is online at

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