The San Diego Zoo has a special penguin named Lucas who has recently been gifted a new pair of customized padded shoes. He has been suffering from a chronic condition called bumblefoot that leads to ulcers, abscesses, and skin inflammation in the foot region. Due to his condition, Lucas has been socially isolated as other penguins did not want to stay close to him. Thanks to the custom-made shoes, he is now able to overcome the disability caused by the infection and live a pain-free life.
Bumblefoot is caused when a bruise, injury, or cut on the foot gets infected by bacteria, such as Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus, commonly found in the environment. Lucas also developed the infection from a spinal injury. The bacterial infection first impaired his spine and then weakened his leg muscles up to the extent that he lost his ability to stand and walk properly.
Every day Lucas had to bear the pain arising from the sores and swollen parts of his feet. The zoo staff, including a team of wildlife care specialists, tried various methods to treat the infection because they knew that if not treated timely, bumblefoot could even lead to death. They gave Lucas different types of medicines and therapies but none of those treatments provided Lucas any relief from the infection on his feet.
Further shedding light on Lucas’ condition, members of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance wrote in the official press release:
“The 4-year-old penguin’s medical journey began more than 3 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. Lucas was forced to rest on areas of his ankles that would not normally touch the ground. The team provided Lucas with pain medication, physical therapy and acupuncture treatments to try to improve his spine, but were unable to heal his condition.”
The orthopedic footwear that gave Lucas a new life
In search of a solution, the zoo team contacted Thera-Paw, a company that specializes in creating products that assist animals with special needs. The designers at Thera-Paw received a model of Lucas’ footprints from the zoo. They studied the foot impressions and developed a custom-made pair of orthopedic shoes from neoprene and rubber.
Once Lucas was equipped with the shoes, the wildlife care specialists at the zoo noticed a significant improvement in his condition. They said,
“We were pleasantly surprised at the immediate change in Lucas after we fitted him with his new boots.” They further added, “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.”
The padded shoes allow Lucas to walk, swim and climb comfortably like any other penguin. These physical improvements have also enabled him to participate in regular penguin activities and even make some friends. Other penguins of his colony no longer treat him the way they used to and it looks like Lucas won’t have to further spend his life in desolation. Moreover, the orthopedic shoes serve as a protective covering for the existing sores and mitigate the risk of further infection.
Penguins like Lucas are precious
Lucas is a member of the endangered African penguin species known as Spheniscus demersus. It may sound shocking but out of millions of such penguins in the 1980s, only 18,000 breeding pairs are left today. The African continent has lost more than 60% of its penguin population in the last 50 years.
Unfortunately, even at present, most of the remaining African penguins are striving to survive amidst increasing water pollution, climate change, and the spread of diseases like bird flu. Therefore, it becomes very important to ensure the protection of each African penguin like Lucas.