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This elderly African penguin wears special shoes to treat its foot condition

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Our next story is about a pair of shoes and a creature named Beach Donkey.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH DONKEY VOCALIZING)

KELLY: Now, that is not a donkey you're hearing, it just sounds a bit like one.

ERIC FOX: When a African penguin makes a vocalization, they sound just like a donkey. It is referred to as a bray.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Eric Fox manages the penguin team at the New England Aquarium in Boston. He says, of the dozens of African penguins at the aquarium, Beach Donkey is among the oldest.

FOX: Beach Donkey is one of our what we would consider geriatric penguins, meaning that she's lived beyond her typical life expectancy.

SUMMERS: The average lifespan in a zoo or aquarium is about 15 years, and she's 24.

KELLY: Melissa Joblon is an associate veterinarian at the aquarium. During a routine physical, she says they spotted callouses on Beach Donkey's feet.

MELISSA JOBLON: Beach Donkey has a condition that's called pododermatitis. And the layman's term for that is bumblefoot.

KELLY: Bumblefoot - it's a common condition in older birds, but it can be fatal if left untreated.

SUMMERS: So the vets surgically removed the calluses, gave her some medication and got her something else.

JOBLON: I guess you could just call them shoes or booties.

SUMMERS: A pair of teeny custom booties, designed to reduce pressure on Beach Donkey's feet while she heals.

KELLY: Eric Fox says they took some getting used to.

FOX: Penguins in general are a little bit clumsy. At first, she might stumble a little bit or she might, you know, rock back in them because it feels a little bit weird.

KELLY: But eventually, she got the hang of it, waddled around.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOBLON: Very good. OK. You ready to walk?

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH DONKEY VOCALIZING)

KELLY: And Joblon, the vet, says Beach Donkey's feet are now healed.

SUMMERS: I guess you could say that she now has some happy feet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY FEET")

THE MANHATTAN RHYTHM KINGS: (Singing) Happy feet. I've got those happy feet. Give them a lowdown beat and they begin dancing. I've got those 10 little tapping toes, and when they hear a tune, I can't control my dancing heels to save my soul. Weary blues can't get into my shoes because my shoes refuse... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.