San Diego Zoo Penguin Is Outfitted With Custom Boots to Help Him Get Around

A spinal injury caused Lucas to walk on what would be the human equivalent of his ankles. Now thanks to custom orthopedic boots, Lucas can more comfortably get around. 

A penguin living at the San Diego Zoo has a new pep in his step thanks to the orthopedic boots that were customized for the aquatic birds so he could more comfortably get around. 

Authorities at the San Diego Zoo first began considering that Lucas the penguin would need extra help to get around when he became sick a few years ago, Dr. Beth Bicknese, a senior veterinarian at the zoo explained. 

“On C.T., we diagnosed disco spondylitis, which is an infection in the discs down the spinal cord, and the inflammation around those infections impacted the spine,” she said. “So, he is just weaker with his nerves and his muscle control. So instead of being up like a normal penguin, he's down flat on what would be like our ankles.”

Because of the disco spondylitis, Lucas had a bumblefoot.

“Bumblefoot is not an infrequent diagnosis in birds. It usually means the animal has either a skeletal or a neurologic problem in their bearing weight inappropriately, or if they were perching bird and had inappropriate types of perching to hold on to. But with Lucas's case, it's because he has the spinal injury that causes them to walk flatter,” Bicknese said. 

Since receiving the therapy boots in June, Lucas’ waddle has improved. He can walk, swim, climb and fit in more seamlessly in the colony.

“He’s shown a much more normal gait walking on flat surfaces,” Bicknese said. “There’s no limping. There’s no favoring his left side anymore.”

Veterinarians at the zoo plan to continue monitoring Lucas to make sure he thrives. 

“I'm so excited that we've been able to do this for Lucas. Lucas was one of the first birds that I raised here at San Diego Zoo,” said Debbie Denton, a San Diego Zoo senior wildlife care specialist. “So I've known him since he was an egg, and we are 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, and to make him fit into the colony a little bit better.”

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