A Special Shoe for a "Lucky" Penguin

Adventure shoe company Teva® has come to the rescue of a young Humboldt penguin with an impaired foot at the Santa Barbara Zoo. By wearing a shoe custom made by Teva, the young penguin, named Lucky, is now able to walk, jump and swim like any other penguin.

“Teva is an expert at creating shoes for use in, on and around the water, which is just what our little penguin needed,” said Zoo CEO Rich Block, “The penguin isn’t the only one who is lucky – the Zoo is lucky to have such terrific community partners.”  

Pete Worley, Teva Brand President, notes, “For over 25 years Teva has provided traction, protection, stability and comfort for water adventures and we’re honored to be part of his story. Our Product Team is experienced at collaborating with athletes, and while Lucky’s certainly a unique athlete, his needs were not dissimilar to those of any world class kayaker or trail runner. We went through a bit more trial and error due to the language barrier, but Lucky knew what he was looking for in performance footwear, and he let us know when we had it right. In Lucky, we found a new friend and the perfect Teva athlete.” 

The Zoo’s flock of Humboldt penguins currently numbers 18, including Lucky, who hatched on exhibit in a nesting box (or burrow) on April 15, 2010. The young chick was examined by the Zoo’s veterinarian and appeared normal and healthy at that time. But as he grew and began to walk, Lucky exhibited a shuffling gait. 

“It is not uncommon for chicks of many bird species to have ‘splayed legs’ as a result of being underneath their parents,” says bird keeper Rachel Miller, who cares for Lucky. “They usually respond to treatment. But Lucky didn’t.”

Lucky was examined and x-rayed. No bones were broken, but the young chick’s leg was not developing normally. Treatments, including splints, were tried, but nothing corrected his leg. 

The idea for the shoe came when, at the age of two months, Lucky developed sores from putting pressure on the wrong parts of his foot while he jumpped. Zoo veterinarians and keepers treated the sores and began wrapping the penguin’s foot and padding the heel. 

“We remembered that years ago, Teva had fashioned a special boot for an elephant in San Antonio with foot issues,” adds Miller. “Teva’s headquarters is located just a few miles from our zoo and even made a video here about the shoe. We thought, if they can make a big elephant boot, they may be able to make a little penguin one.”
A Shoe for Lucky

Teva’s design team responded immediately. Lucky’s leg and foot were measured and casts were made. But a penguin has several particular needs. Not only did the shoe have to cushion Lucky’s foot, it had to be lightweight, provide traction, and easily shed water. Above all, it had to be comfortable. 

“Teva’s background in designing products that work in, on and around water was a perfect fit for this project, since a penguin’s whole life revolves around being in, on and around water,” said Stuart Jenkins, Teva Vice President of Business Development for Teva’s parent company, Deckers Outdoor Corporation, who headed the design and development team. “Lucky was a helpful customer.  He made it very clear which prototypes were comfortable and which were not.  In a very literal sense, Lucky helped design his shoe. All we had to do is be sensitive, thoughtful and listen to his direction.  I have sure grown to love the little fellow.”
There were several versions of the shoe, each one improving on the previous version with different materials, waterproof fabrics and designs. The Teva team even worked with their suppliers on Lucky’s shoe, which features technologies found within their footwear collection. Ion-mask™ helps Lucky’s foot stay dry, as it makes the shoe completely hydrophobic, and Spider Rubber + JStep ensures that he won’t lose his footing as he’s going in and out of the water. Teva has committed to providing shoes for Lucky for his entire lifespan. The shoes are changed daily so they can be washed. 

Humboldt penguins are threatened in their native habitat along the Pacific Coast of South America from Peru to Chile, where their populations are in serious decline. The Zoo opened the Crawford Family Penguin House in June 2006.

Humboldt penguins are considered “vulnerable” – one step away from “endangered” – by the World Conservation Union, an international body of thousands of scientists who assess the status of the world’s plants and animals. The total world population of Humboldt penguins is around 12,000 breeding pairs and is currently in serious decline. The causes include over-fishing of their food supply, entanglement in fishing nets, commercial removal of the guano they use for burrows, and predation. There are worries that the species could become extinct within decades.