It’s hard to have “happy feet” with a debilitating foot condition — even for a penguin. But a little help from friends can go a long way towards healing. Beach Donkey is living proof.
The New England Aquarium is home to a multitude of geriatric penguins, including an African penguin named Beach Donkey. At 24-Yrs-Old, this mighty bird keeps going and going, despite recent health setbacks. Beach Donkey was originally diagnosed with pododermatitis (otherwise known as Bumblefoot) approximately two years ago. Since that time, aquarium staff have provided specialized treatment for the penguin and now consider her to be fully recovered.
Of course, Beach Donkey has undergone a variety of medical interventions to get where she is today. If left untreated, pododermatitis can lead to infection in the bone. A combination of medicine, surgeries, foot care, and custom footwear have all contributed to Beach Donkey’s success story. It was, however, the work of dedicated trainers at the aquarium that eventually tipped the scales in her favor.
“Training an animal to be comfortable with this level of interaction and treatment requires very small steps and a positive trainer-animal relationship,” said Eric Fox, Manager of Penguins. “Nuanced understanding of each individual penguin and what they find reinforcing is crucial to a trainer’s success and is essential to the health of each penguin.”
In order to motivate Beach Donkey, staff members catered to her sense of curiosity and adventure. Along with fish, the penguin was rewarded with trips to unexpected places throughout the aquarium, including staff offices!
It took some effort, but with time, Beach Donkey adapted to her new way of walking. She underwent multiple foot treatments and surgery, one of which required her to have bandaged feet for weeks. Still, she powered through and is once again back on her feet!
In addition to her miraculous recovery from pododermatitis, Beach Donkey is thriving as a penguin of advanced age. In fact, many of the penguins who are housed at the aquarium have surpassed the average lifespan of a penguin in the wild. Usually, they’re expected to live between 10 to 15 years.
What’s their secret to success? Aquarium staff provide exceptional care to each one of their penguin charges, including daily eye drops, acupuncture, and physical therapy.
These days, you won’t find Beach Donkey hobbling around with Bumblefoot. Now that her foot condition is fully healed, she’s not slowing down for anyone. But in case you plan to visit the aquarium sometime soon, Beach Donkey will be the penguin wearing a green and white bracelet on her right wing. Oh, and of course, watch for those “happy feet!”
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