An adorable African penguin at the New England Aquarium in Boston has gotten a new lease on life, thanks to special sandals that help her walk as she recovers from a foot condition.
Beach Donkey, a 24-year-old African penguin, was diagnosed with pododermatitis (aka bumblefoot) in 2020. The condition is common in captive penguins and is often identified as inflammation of the foot. If left untreated, it can cause other issues like soft tissue and bone infections.
“Chronic pododermatitis can progress to a deeper infection of the underlying soft tissue structures and bone and can also predispose the bird to other health issues,” said Melissa Joblon, an associate veterinarian at New England Aquarium, in a press release. “Early diagnosis with routine foot checks, followed by intensive treatment, requires extensive collaboration with the veterinary and husbandry teams.”
During her treatment, Beach Donkey was able to enjoy little “field trips” around the aquarium to become accustomed to the staff handling her care and to get used to her new sandals. She has waddled all over to see her fellow marine life and even visited staff offices as a reward for allowing so much hands-on care.
“She has always been a curious bird and seemed to really like the opportunity to explore the Aquarium, outside of her exhibit space. Of course, our staff also loved when she would make appearances in unexpected places,” Amanda Barr, a senior penguin trainer, said in a press release.
Beach Donkey and most of her fellow African penguins at the aquarium are considered geriatric, as African penguins don’t usually live past 10 to 15 years in the wild. The older penguins require all sorts of regular care, including physical therapy and daily eye drops. They receive individual behavioural plans to help them tolerate human touch for medical treatments.
Keeping penguins like Beach Donkey and her friends healthy into their golden years is a priority at the New England Aquarium. The species is endangered and has undergone rapid population decline from several factors, including their food sources depleting from overfishing and pollution. According to the New England Aquarium, the African penguin population has declined by 23% in the last two years. This year has brought about new risks for the endangered seabirds. Up to 28 African penguins have died from the bird flu in South Africa since mid-August, AFP reported.
To protect African penguins in the wild — while caring for its own penguins — the New England Aquarium participates in the African Penguin Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This means that the aquarium supports field conservation efforts like installing artificial nest boxes near penguin colonies in the wild to help them lay more eggs.
Aquarium field trip
Little penguin sandals
Wild penguin friends
Back in the wild
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