07 April 2011

Protective wetsuit for bald Belle the penguin

SINGAPORE - Belle the Humboldt penguin can now join the other penguins back in the pool at Jurong Bird Park thanks to her new wetsuit.

The 10-year-old penguin started going bald last year - something went wrong with her moulting cycle and her feathers fell out but new ones did not grow to replace them.

Waterproof feathers are vital for penguins and without hers, poor Belle was unable to go swimming or keep herself warm and dry. She was also being ostracised by the other penguins because of her appearance.

To fix the situation, park staff provided her with very own wetsuit. The first one was made from the leg of a human wetsuit, but she is currently wearing a custom-made version that fits her much better. Staff are hopeful that the protection of the wetsuit will encourage her feathers to grow back normally.

Park veterinarian Melodiya Magno told the Daily Mail it was the first time any of its 96 penguins had been bald for a prolonged period. It is thought that this sort of feather loss in Humboldt penguins can be caused by stress or a hormonal imbalance.

She may be the first for Jurong Bird Park, but Belle is not the first penguin in the world to don a wetsuit. In 2008, 25-year-old African penguin Pierre at the California Academy of Sciences in the USA wore a wetsuit for nearly 8 months until his feathers grew back, and in 2009, 10-year-old Humboldt penguin Ralph from Marwell Wildlife in the UK was given one to protect his skin from the sun and has worn it for two summers in a row.

Sources
Penguin's wetsuit puts him back into the swim of things by Michelle Locke, 25 April 2008, Fox News
Pierre the penguin, 31 October 2008, California Academy of Sciences Penguin Blog
Ralph the bald penguin gets a new wetsuit, 11 June 2010, Marwell Wildlife
Water off a penguin's back: Bald bird able to fit in after getting her own special wetsuit, 4 April 2011, The Daily Mail

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