I t’s hard to believe that Lucky is six years old already. There was a short time, after Lucky hatched, when I worried that his foot abnormality would keep him from being able to do all the normal things that penguins do.

Colony life for a penguin is very active and quite social. In the Zoo’s penguin exhibit, the birds nest right next to each other, just like their wild counterparts. Territorial disputes are common – and noisy. I compare our feeding time to running through a gauntlet – for penguins AND keepers, too.

I am happy to report that I worried for no reason!

When the Teva team arrived with the first prototype shoe, and we strapped it to Lucky’s foot, I knew instantly this bird had a chance to make it. I watched Lucky as he waddled across the floor of the Animal Hospital in his custom-made shoe, and there was hope.

Fast forward a few months later, when Lucky was introduced into the penguin colony with his finished shoe. The other penguins had some interest in the shoe – not so much the bird himself – and Lucky quickly became part of the group.

After he became an adult at age three, he bonded with Peegloo, a female penguin that didn’t have a mate, and they moved into an empty nest site in preparation for nesting season. Although the nest was empty, it was not unguarded by other penguins!

When the Teva team arrived with the first prototype shoe, and we strapped it to Lucky’s foot, I knew instantly this bird had a chance to make it.

Lucky and Peegloo had to work together to defend their new territory. That involved a lot of braying (donkey-like trumpeting), displaying to their neighbors by standing side-by-side, stretching out their necks, and twisting their heads back and forth at their neighbor, and even some bill sparring (it’s dramatic, but usually no one gets hurt). Lucky and Peegloo were ultimately successful, and this nest became their home.

As I’ve watched Lucky grow up, I feel grateful for Lucky, and for all the hard work the Zoo team and Teva have put into this one little bird. Lucky swims, plays, eats, and interacts with the colony just like any other penguin. None of the birds treat him differently because he wears a shoe.

Lucky receives special ongoing care as the keepers and veterinary team monitor his foot. At the exhibit, Lucky’s primary keeper Lindsay Cokeley changes his shoe 3 to 4 times per week so the shoe can be disinfected. She trims his toenails, as they don’t wear down naturally by scraping against the ground. She checks for pressure sores on his foot, and also monitors Lucky for any signs of pain such as hopping on his good foot, laying down more than usual, or even not eating.

The shoes are also regularly examined for wear and tear. Imagine wearing a shoe 24 hours a day! As old shoes wear down, Teva makes new ones for Lucky. His shoe closet is very impressive.

Julie Barnes, the Zoo’s Director of Animal Health & Care, does a full physical exam for Lucky every year, during which she takes radiographs, and makes a plaster cast of his foot. There haven’t been any significant changes in the joints of his foot, which makes Julie happy — and the rest of us too.

Lucky’s future looks very good at the Santa Barbara Zoo. He has overcome many challenges in his short five years, but his story is inspiring. We love to share his story, so feel free to chat with us if you see us feeding the penguins in the exhibit. Lucky also has his own iPad, and he loves to Facetime with school classes (I might be there to help share his story)!

I imagine that Lucky is very thankful for his Teva shoe too!

Rachel Ritchason

About Rachel Ritchason

Rachel is the Curator of Birds and Records at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103