Elderly zoo penguin with arthritis gets shoes to provide relief

Getting older can be a burden. Just ask Enrique, an elderly penguin at the St. Louis Zoo who’s getting some relief from his arthritis after getting custom-designed boots. 

According to zookeepers the southern rockhopper penguin has lived beyond his life expectancy and needed therapeutic shoes. Staff members said Enrique, who came to the zoo in 2016, is estimated to be more than 30 years old. The life expectancy for his species in the wild is about 10 years.

Since then, the penguin developed arthritis in his feet and started to get around slowly over the past year.

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"Like many zoo animals, Enrique is far older than would be expected if he were to live in the wild, and his cool kicks allow him to live a more comfortable life," officials posted on Twitter Friday.

Veterinarians said Enrique also developed larger, thicker calluses at the bottom of his feet, another sign of the disorder. They treated him with various medicines and topical treatments but kept re-applying it every time he got in and out of the water.

"We started thinking outside the box," said Johnson, "and that’s where the boots come in," the zoo’s veterinarian Dr. Jimmy Johnson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Johnson told the outlet that he had previously seen swans fitted for boots at another institution because of foot-related issues.

Zookeepers turned to New Jersey-based Thera-Paw to help make the boots for Enrique, who received the first prototype in September. It took one more month for Enrique to receive his custom pair.

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The strap-on shoes are black with red grips at the bottom. Staff members put them on Enrique in the morning and take them off at night before Enrique goes to bed.

Since wearing the boots, zoo officials said Enrique hadn’t required much more medicine for his feet and gets around pretty quickly.

"We always say his longevity is a credit to the zoo continuing to provide him with great care and expert husbandry," Johnson also told the Post-Dispatch. "We’re lucky to have had him with us for such a long time."

The southern rockhopper penguin is native to parts of Antarctica from Chile to New Zealand, according to National Geographic. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.