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San Diego Zoo penguin gets comfy shoes to help with foot issue

Lucas' cushy sandals may not be fashionable, but they help him get around despite a chronic condition.
Credit: AP
In this undated photo provided by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, wildlife care specialists Debbie Dention, left, and Lara Jones watch as a penguin named Lucas tests custom orthopedic footwear at the San Diego Zoo. (Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance via AP)

SAN DIEGO — A member of the San Diego Zoo's African penguin colony has been fitted with orthopedic footwear to help it deal with a degenerative foot condition.

The 4-year-old penguin named Lucas has lesions on his feet due to a chronic condition known as bumblefoot, which covers a range of avian foot problems, the San Diego Wildlife Alliance said Monday in a press release.

If left untreated, bumblefoot could lead to sepsis and death by infection.

The zoo's wildlife care specialists turned to an organization called Thera-Paw, which creates rehabilitative and assistive products for animals with special needs.

Thera-Paw created custom shoes made of neoprene and rubber to prevent pressure sores from developing when Lucas stands and walks.

Credit: AP
In this undated photo provided by the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, a penguin named Lucas does a test walk with custom orthopedic footwear at the San Diego Zoo. (Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance via AP)

The penguin's problems began more than three years ago after a spinal infection weakened his leg muscles, leaving him unable to stand properly. Pain meds, physical therapy and even acupuncture didn't help, leading zookeepers to ask for the padded shoes. 

Zookeepers saw an "immediate change" after fitting Lucas with the boots, the San Diego Wildlife Alliance said. He was able to get around his habitat more easily and had a more natural posture.  

“Seeing him move about now gives us hope that he may be OK going forward, and able to live a full life," San Diego Zoo specialist Debbie Denton said in the release.

African penguins have suffered a massive population decline and are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN says the birds' population has fallen by 80% in just over 50 years. 

Weighing between 4.4 and 11 pounds, the zoo says these little black-and-white birds are one of the world's smallest penguin species. 

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