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Arthritic Penguin at St. Louis Zoo Gets Special Shoes to Help Him Walk: 'He's a Pretty Easygoing Bird'

·1-min read

Kimberley Washington/Saint Louis Zoo

One southern rockhopper penguin at the St. Louis Zoo has an extra spring in his step these days.

Enrique, whom zookeepers estimate to be around 30 years old, was recently fitted with a pair of custom, cushioned shoes to help with his arthritis pain, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

An eagle-eyed zoo-goer noticed the shoes last week and shared a photo and exchange with a zookeeper on Facebook. According to the Post-Dispatch, Enrique - who came to the zoo in 2016 and has gone far past the median life expectancy of 10 years in the wild - developed calluses on his feet, and creams and sprays his caretakers were applying washed off anytime he got wet.

"We started thinking outside the box," zoo veterinarian Dr. Jimmy Johnson told the Post-Dispatch. "And that's where the boots come in."

Zoo staff worked with New Jersey company Thera-Paw, known for its dog boots, to fit Enrique with his own fancy footwear. He wears the boots - black so they are somewhat camouflaged - while in his habitat during the day, and caretakers remove them at night before he sleeps.

"He's a pretty easygoing bird," said Johnson. "We put the shoes on and set him on the ground to see what would happen. Initially he took some big steps and then he took off."

Though he was starting to slow down as his calluses worsened, the Post-Dispatch reports he's moving around more these days and no longer requires medication for his feet.

"He's swimming more than he used to, he's climbing higher on the rocks than he used to," said Johnson. "I guess he didn't mind."

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