HAPPY FEET: African penguin Lucas receives custom boots after struggling with chronic foot condition

HAPPY FEET: African penguin Lucas receives custom boots after struggling with chronic foot condition
Lucas, the 4-year-old African penguin at the San Diego Zoo (Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: After being diagnosed with bumblefoot, Lucas, a 4-year-old African penguin, has the "opportunity to thrive" with the help of his new neoprene and rubber boots, which were designed to treat the bird's chronic foot condition, announced the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance (SDZWA) in late August. 

Thanks to custom orthopedic shoes, the penguin at the San Diego Zoo surely has a new lease on life. 


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Debbie Denton, a senior wildlife care specialist at the San Diego Zoo, said, "We were pleasantly surprised at the immediate change in Lucas after we fitted him with his new boots. Seeing him move about now gives us hope that he may be OK going forward, and able to live a full life." 

It was three years ago when Lucas was diagnosed with bumblefoot, a condition that can cause a range of degenerative foot issues in birds. After developing a spinal infection, Lucas' leg muscles weakened which prevented him from standing upright on his toes.

Lucas trying out his new boots (San Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance)

To improve the penguin's spine, the zoo opted for several treatments including pain medication, physical therapy, and acupuncture treatments, but when nothing worked, at last, the zoo enlisted the help of Thera-Paw, a national organization that designs and manufactures rehabilitative and assistive products for animals with special needs, to help Lucas and created custom boots to protect his feet. 

"This was such an amazing opportunity, and we were honored to be asked to assist the team at the San Diego Zoo," said Ilaria Borghese, the founder and president of Thera-Paw.

She continued, "Over the years, we've tackled challenging cases like Lucas', and each is special and memorable. One thing that never gets old is seeing an animal's life dramatically improve after using one of our aids. It inspires and drives us every day." 

As per the zoo, thanks to the boots, Lucas has now a stable posture, which allows him to balance better while navigating his habitat, according to the zoo.

"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.
Bicknese added, "The boots are cushioned and velcroed in place, so they will help Lucas to participate in the colony fully and showcase behaviors that are more typical for a penguin—such as climbing the rocks, swimming, nesting, and finding a suitable mate."

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