24-year-old penguin gets modified shoes, medical care for foot condition – Boston News, Weather, Sports

BOSTON (WHDH) — A 24-year-old African penguin at the New England Aquarium has been given a new lease of life after more than two years of specialized care for a foot condition.

Beach Donkey came out of the aquarium on April 21, 1998. In the summer of 2020, she was diagnosed with pododermatitis, also known as bumblefoot, due to the large calluses that developed on her feet. This is a common condition that affects both wild and captive penguins and can arise due to factors such as body weight, activity level, age, environment and genetics. If left untreated, this condition can cause bone infections.

“Chronic pododermatitis can develop into a deeper infection of the underlying soft tissue structures and bones and can also predispose the bird to other health problems,” says Dr. Melissa Joblon, an associate veterinarian at the Aquarium. “Early diagnosis with routine foot checks, followed by intensive treatment, requires extensive collaboration with the veterinary and livestock teams.”

The aquarium’s care team sprang into action, developing a multi-pronged approach, including “medication, surgical procedures, hands-on-foot treatments and the use of custom footwear,” they said.

Carrying out this plan also required Beach Donkey staff to become familiar with this level of interaction and touch. Eric Fox, the Aquarium’s manager of penguins, said they trained her to be comfortable with her feet by taking her on field trips as a reward and showing her everything from exhibit halls to staff offices.

“We wanted Beach to keep coming to her feed at exhibitions, so we considered other ways to reward her besides feeding her fish,” said Senior Penguin Trainer Amanda Barr. “She has always been an inquisitive bird and seemed to enjoy exploring the Aquarium outside of her exhibition space. Of course, our staff also loved it when she performed in unexpected places.”

When she became desensitized to her treatments, including her shoes, she underwent another foot surgery that involved a dressing process over several weeks while her feet healed. She is now considered cured of bumblefoot.

At 24 years old, Beach Donkey has far exceeded her 10 to 15 year life expectancy in the wild, as have most of the penguins in the Aquarium. Many of them may require special attention and medical care, including daily eye drops, acupuncture, and physical therapy.

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