Meet an Adorable Boot-Wearing Penguin

Custom made boots help this penguin live a better life.

Meet an Adorable Boot-Wearing Penguin | Custom made boots help this penguin live a better life.

Many people have developed a soft spot for penguins. It's so easy to love these adorable flightless birds with their clumsy waddles and tuxedo-like feather patterns.

Now, Lucas, a San Diego Zoo penguin, just got a cuteness upgrade. Lucas’s caretakers fitted him with custom made penguin boots. They hope this will help the penguin with bumblefoot participate fully in his colony’s activities, the Daily Beast reports.

Meet Lucas
Meaww explains that Lucas is a four year old penguin and a resident of the San Diego Zoo. More than three years ago, the juvenile chick developed a degenerate condition called bumblefoot, as a result of a spinal infection, Live Science reported. 

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"'Bumblefoot' is a word we use for pododermatitis [inflammation of the skin] in birds.”  Bumblefoot: “usually means the animal has either a skeletal or neurological problem and they're bearing weight inappropriately," Dr. Beth Bicknese told Meaww. 

Because penguin flippers don’t callus easily, bumblefoot can cause serious issues for penguins, including pain and difficulty walking. In serious cases, bumblefoot can even lead to abscesses and sepsis.

For Lucas, the spinal infection and bumblefoot left him with weaker muscles in his legs, and sores on his left foot and leg. As a result, Lucas had difficulty standing upright and participating in penguin activities.

Fitting Lucas with boots
At first, Lucas’s caretakers treated his limp with medication, physical therapy, and even penguin acupuncture. When these failed to give Lucas relief, the team reached out to Thera-Paw, an organization that makes assistive products for animals.

According to Meaww, Thera-Paw produced custom designed neoprene and rubber orthopedic books for Lucas, which have already improved  the avian’s gait and posture. 

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Thera-Paw founder and president, Ilaria Borthese weighed in,"This was such an amazing opportunity, and we were honored to be asked to assist the team at the San Diego Zoo. Over the years, we've tackled challenging cases like Lucas', and each is special and memorable. One thing that never gets old is seeing an animal's life dramatically improve after using one of our aids. It inspires and drives us every day."

According to LiveScience, Lucas’s veterinary team at San Diego Zoo reports that Lucas’s life has already dramatically improved after he received the boots. 

"The boots are cushioned and Velcroed in place, so they will 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," Dr Bicknese told Live Science.

Not the first booted penguin
Surprisingly, Lucas was not the first penguin that Thera-Paw designed orthopedics for. In 2021, the organization custom built shoes for a 30-year old, southern rockhopper penguin, named Enrique, who lived at the Saint Louis Zoo, People Magazine reports.

Because of his advanced age (penguins live to around ten-years old in the wild), Enrique developed arthritis, and calluses. The boots gave the senior penguin relief, helped him move around more easily, and allowed his care team to stop applying cream to his legs for pain relief. Lucas’s team hopes that they will see similar results; his friends at the zoo are rooting for him.

Debbie Denton, senior wildlife care specialist at the San Diego Zoo told Live Science, "Lucas was one of the first birds that I raised here at the San Diego Zoo, so I've known him since he was an egg. And we're very attached to each other, so it warms my heart just to know that we've been able to do something to make him more comfortable."

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