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This Wednesday morning, the Santa Barbara Zoo announced that Lucky, a Humboldt penguin, had been humanely euthanized following medical complications stemming from a degenerative foot condition.
Lucky was born at the zoo in 2010, and, thanks to the work of animal health workers at the zoo, was able to live longer than expected despite medical problems. Lucky gained national attention when the zoo teamed up with footwear company Teva to create a customized, waterproof shoe for the penguin that would allow him to function normally despite the problems with his foot.
The death of the beloved penguin was mourned by zoo workers, but they also pointed to Lucky’s beautiful life as a symbol of resilience and fulfillment. “I really want to focus on celebrating the life of this penguin who overcame so many obstacles and taught us so much,” said Dr. Julie Barnes, vice president of animal care and health at the Santa Barbara Zoo. “It was impossible not to admire and adore this penguin for his resiliency, tenacity, and character.”
Lucky captured the attention of people around the world, and has been the subject of two books, a viral YouTube video titled “Penguin with a Funky Shoe,” and a feature on the Today Show. Teva’s collaboration with workers at the zoo resulted in a custom-made shoe that allowed Lucky to walk, jump, and swim with the other penguins, extending his life far beyond what it would have otherwise been. Teva continued to provide Lucky with custom shoes for the duration of his life.
Unfortunately, Lucky’s degenerative foot condition continued to worsen over the years. Following an amputation in 2018, complications at the end of the amputated limb begun to affect Lucky’s quality of life to such a degree that the zoo made the painful decision that euthanasia was the most humane option. Looking back, zoo officials noted that, while the decision comes with much sadness, Lucky’s long and happy life was a reflection of the compassion and care of the community who embraced him. “The response to the Zoo’s call to help a penguin chick who couldn’t walk was remarkable. So many have contributed to giving a resilient little penguin the very best life he could have,” said Rachel Ritchason, director of collections at the Santa Barbara Zoo and one of Lucky’s first zookeepers, who noted that the designs and materials for Lucky’s boot have been shared with other zoos to help penguins with similar plights.
The lessons represented by the resilient little penguin, who lived a strong and fulfilling existence despite all odds to the contrary, were not lost on Stuart Jenkins, a Santa Barbara Zoo boardmember who led the Teva team in the development of Lucky’s shoe. “Lucky’s adversity stands out above everything and has made everyone in the community who interacted with him better,” said Jenkins. “His adversity allowed children with similar health challenges to recognize their own perfection [and] enabled children to embrace other children with disabilities more lovingly…. In the end, this lovely little penguin facing adversity helped so many gain a greater appreciation of our own humanity.”
“Lucky’s journey has taught us all so many valuable life lessons, and his legacy will live on here at the Santa Barbara Zoo and far beyond,” said Rich Block, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Zoo. “He was beloved by those who looked after him and everyone who heard his story. He truly was a lucky penguin who overcame great physical adversity to live a great life here with us.”
Anyone wishing to make a gift in memory of Lucky can make a donation to the Santa Barbara Zoo (www.sbzoo.org/support), which funds general operations to support the Zoo’s animals, conservation work, and education efforts, or purchase an enrichment item for another zoo animal on the zoo’s Toys4Animals Amazon Wish List.