by Photo courtesy of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

 The San Diego Zoo fitted a member of its African penguin colony with new orthopedic footwear designed to ease the effects of a life-long avian degenerative foot condition that causes pressure sores. 

Thera-paw, a national organization that designs and manufactures rehabilitative and assistive products for animals with special needs, worked with the San Diego Zoo’s wildlife care team to create custom-fitted orthopedic shoes for Lucas. According to a San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance news release, the custom footwear is made with neoprene and rubber to prevent pressure sores from developing on Luca’s feet and ankles when he stands and walks. 

“I’ve known Lucas for a long time, so having the ability to provide him with a chance to live a normal life brings a smile to my face,” said Dr. Beth Bicknese, senior veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo.

According to Bicknese, the boots are cushioned and velcroed in place, so they will help Lucas participate in the colony and showcase behaviors typical of a penguin—such as climbing the rocks, swimming, nesting, and finding a suitable mate.  

The four-year-old penguin suffers from a chronic degenerative foot condition known as bumblefoot, an umbrella term for a range of avian degenerative foot conditions ranging from mild redness to deep abscesses. Bumblefoot could lead to sepsis and death by secondary infection if it is left untreated. 

Wildlife care specialists believe Lucas’ condition is permanent.

Luca’s medical journey began more than three years ago when he developed a spinal infection that left him with weak muscles in his legs and the inability to properly stand upright on his toes. He rested on areas of his ankles that normally do not touch the ground. 

Wildlife care teams attempted several methods to improve his spine but were unsuccessful to heal his condition. Lucas developed sores on his foot and legs as a result of his condition. 

Since fitting Lucas with his new boots, wildlife care specialists said “his gait improved, increasing his ability to navigate his rocky habitat with greater ease —and his posture became more natural, allowing him the faculty to gain better balance while standing". 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *