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San Diego Zoo Penguin Debuts Custom Orthopedic Boots

African Penguin

Lucas, a four year old African Penguin living at the San Diego Zoo, has faced more challenges than his fellow zoo penguins. After a bout with a spinal infection left Lucas with weak and improper posture, the adorable little penguin began to place too much pressure on the wrong sections of his feet. This led Lucas to develop painful sores and ulcers.

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Birds are not designed to carry excessive weight on their feet, and their feet do not naturally develop the tough calluses that human feet do. So, carrying his weight improperly was a very serious affliction for Lucas. This affliction, typically known as “bumblefoot” is characterized by ulcers and abscesses and can, in severe cases, cause serious infections or even death. In Lucas’s case, bumblefoot prevented him from being as mobile and active as his fellow zoo penguins.

Unwilling to give up on little Lucas, whose affliction was determined to be a permanent issue, zookeepers and staff at the San Diego zoo set to work searching for a solution that would ease Lucas’s pain and increase his mobility and ability to participate in normal penguin activities. Eventually, the zoo teamed up with “Thera-Paw,” an organization which develops and provides prosthetics and orthopedic equipment to all sorts of animals. The solution that this collaboration landed on was a pair of orthopedic boots, made from rubber and neoprene, designed to redistribute Lucas’s weight and cushion his sensitive feet while he walks.

The boots, which are held in place with Velcro, were an instant success. According to zoo staff, Lucas’s posture began to look more natural within moments of wearing his special new shoes. In addition, the San Diego Zoo reports that Lucas now has a much easier time navigating the rocky habitat where he lives with the rest of the zoo’s penguin flock. Lucas may not ever be free from his bumblefoot malady, but he is now able to behave like any other penguin and explore his habitat with comfort and ease.

African Penguin
Photo by Miguel Alcântara on Unsplash

While Lucas may only be one bird, his place at the San Diego Zoo is extremely important for the survival and prosperity of his species. African Penguins are an endangered species which has declined dramatically from one of Africa’s most populous birds down to a thin population of less than 20,000 breeding pairs. The San Diego Zoo’s African Penguin flock is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan program which aims to preserve and supplement the global population of African Penguins. While Lucas’s outcome is fantastic news for both Lucas and the zoo’s flock, it is also a very welcome piece of good news for this endangered species’ future.

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