Adorable Penguin Gets Custom Orthopedic Boots

Lucas the African penguin has new footwear and a new way to move through life. He lives at the San Diego Zoo but has a chronic condition called bumblefoot that slows him down. The wildlife specialists at the zoo tried treating Lucas with pain medicine, physical therapy, and even acupuncture. A spinal infection caused him to stand oddly and created sores on his feet. But now he has custom booties. And they’re made of neoprene, the same material used in wetsuits, so he can wear them waddling or swimming. The team at the zoo have already seen improvements in his gait and posture.

Two zookeepers look on as an African penguin wears neoprene boots on his feet to correct a foot problem
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

“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. “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.” 

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance teamed up with Thera-Paw, a company that makes products for animals with special needs. There are tons of sweet pictures of pups getting a second chance at life on their Facebook page. We first saw this feel-good story on NPR, thanks to a link my husband sent me because he knows I couldn’t resist an article about footwear for penguins. And clearly neither can you.

African penguin standing near a rock wearing neoprene boots on his feet to correct a foot problem
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

This is just the latest device to help animals thrive with chronic conditions or injuries. There’s a sea turtle with a 3D-printed shell brace, chihuahuas missing front legs with prosthetic wheels, and even a whole new foot for a duck

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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