OKALOOSA ISLAND — Within the first two months of hatching, one of the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park's new African penguin chicks began holding its ankles abnormally.
Following a series of medical examinations by the Gulfarium animal care and veterinary team, it was discovered that the tendons in the chick's legs were too loose, allowing the joint to slip out of place, according to a press release from the Gulfarium. Even though the issue was initially found in the right leg, it was soon determined that the left leg was also affected, but to a lesser degree.
With the leg joints slipping out of place, the penguin chick was unable to walk. Possible causes for the issue, as seen in other bird species, include a congenital defect, an abnormal growth rate or other undetermined causes.
Due to her inability to walk, the Gulfarium reached out to specialists in the Zoological Medicine Department at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. A veterinary orthopedic surgeon there, Vanessa Ferraz, had experience with similar cases in other birds and penguins.
It was decided that external fixators would be placed on the chick's legs which would allow the ankles to be held in position so that the tendon would not slip out of place. This solution would enable the penguin to walk and have some range of motion as the legs continue to grow. Exercise would help develop the muscles of the legs, thus tightening the tendons.
A team of zoo veterinarians, residents, interns and vet students worked tirelessly to assist in the chick's surgeries and recovery. During the healing process, the Integrative Medicine Department prescribed exercises to strengthen the muscles in the chick's legs and improve its ability to walk, the release said.
"We knew that surgery was necessary in order to give the chick a chance at a future and the ability to walk," Dr. Rebecca Wells, the Gulfarium's veterinarian, said in the release. "The chick continues to thrive and is improving every day. We are very thankful to the team at University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for their help on this case. We are cautiously optimistic that the chick will continue to thrive and enjoy the life of a normal penguin. We will continue to learn from this case in order to help this endangered species."
The chick is undergoing rehabilitation at the Gulfarium while the animal care staff monitor its progress daily.
Updates on the chick's progress will be made available on Gulfarium's Facebook and Instagram pages.