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Wetsuit helps bald penguin avoid sunburn at Marwell Zoo
7:30am Friday 14th August 2009 in News
HE was facing the summer unable to swim with his pals. When Ralph the penguin lost his feathers and turned bald the 2ft tall creature was also at serious risk of sunburn.
Now after being confined indoors for weeks, Ralph’s been given a new lease of life – thanks to a custom made mini-wetsuit which enables him to splash about again.
Unlike all his fellow Humboldt penguins, who lose their old feathers over a few weeks to make way for a fresh set, little Ralph’s fell out in just one day.
And, with nothing to protect him from the weather, his keepers at Marwell Wildlife were looking to keep him inside out of the sunshine – and away from his group and his young chicks.
However, the kindly zoo staff took pity on poor Ralph and fashioned him his own wetsuit from the leg of a man’s suit. The nine-year-old penguin could not be happier with the new clothes which have caused a bit of a stir at his enclosure. Helen Jeffreys, from Marwell Wildlife, said: “Ralph’s really taken to his new suit.
He’s doing really well. He doesn’t seem to notice the difference. “All the other penguins were intrigued by his new clothes. They spent a good while checking him out, but when they realised it was still Ralph in there they seemed quite happy and don’t really pay it any attention anymore.”
When penguins moult – usually over a period of around three weeks every year – their old feathers are replaced with a new, clean set. David White, who is assistant manager of Penguin World at Marwell, said he and colleagues had thought about covering Ralph in suncream before hitting on the wetsuit idea.
Mr White, 31, said: “We noticed he was getting pink and feared suncream would just wash off so we decided to try to make him a wetsuit.
We used the leg of a man’s wetsuit and cut a holes in it for his head and wings. Ralph seems to love it.” “It’s certainly a strange sight and Ralph must be the first scuba penguin but he seems so at ease that we’ve been thinking maybe we should get him a mask and snorkel as well.”
Ralph will now wear his suit for around three weeks while his new feathers grow.
Humboldt penguins are native to South America, breeding in coastal Peru and Chile, and can live for around 30 years in captivity.