A penguin with orthopaedic shoes and two people in the background.

Happy Feet

Posted by Speakeasy News > Tuesday 20 February 2024 > In the News Shine Bright Collège

When humans have trouble walking, they can get help with orthopaedic shoes or prosthetics. What happens when an animal has a problem? San Diego Zoo in California fitted one of its penguins with customised shoes to help with a degenerative foot condition.

Lucas, an African penguin, developed a chronic condition called bumblefoot, which occurs in different bird species and can make walking difficult and painful. It can even be fatal if sepsis sets in.

The veterinary team at the zoo decided to create special shoes for the bird. First, they created a sandy area in the penguin enclosure and had Lucas walk in the sand. Then they made moulds from his footprints. They could see where he was putting extra pressure on his feet and designed his shoes with extra padding in those places.

Dr. Beth Bicknese, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo explained, “The boots help Lucas to fully participate in the colony and showcase behaviors that are more typical for a penguin—such as climbing the rocks, swimming, nesting, and finding a suitable mate.”

Mating is important because the zoo participates in a breeding programme to help safeguard African penguin populations. The small birds are native to southern Africa but habitat loss, climate change and avian flu have all impacted the species. It is now considered Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Over recent decades, the population has dropped from 1 million to just 18,000 breeding pairs.

The cover of Shine Bright 4e textbook with teenagers running under a frieze of monuments from the English-speaking world.Learn more about African penguins and other endangered species in South Africa in Shine Bright 4e File 2 SOS Wildlife.