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Teddy is the wise old man of the rockhopper penguin colony on the Penguin Exhibit beach. Rescued in 1999, Teddy was already a fully grown adult and we estimate that he is now about 30 years old, more than double the age of the average wild rockhopper. Caring for a veteran penguin is no small feat - here are some of the joys and challenges of working with an ageing penguin!
Who is Teddy?
Teddy is the oldest penguin in our northern rockhopper colony. He used to be the dominant penguin on the beach, but the younger Grommet has since taken over this role.
He enjoys being carried around, and although he pretends to struggle, he enjoys the chance to get some cuddles away from the other penguins. Penguins can't fly, but he tries anyway, keeping his flippers out and pretending to fly when carried. Feeding time is his favourite time of day! He loves fish, but is not a fan of squid - he will usually just play-fight with the squid, but not eat it.
Teddy is not a morning penguin at all! He stays very grumpy until he sees the swimming pool. He enjoys swimming under the waterfall, and he is the only rockhopper that enjoys being washed off after a saltwater swim. Teddy definitely knows how to #savelikeapenguin, even drinking water in the shower!
He is a loyal husband to Wallace and if they are not together, he can usually be seen walking around trying to find her. If he can’t see her he will sing his contact call for her until he sees her again – even if they are in different rooms. Wallace is another rescued penguin who came to the Aquarium in 2000, and soon afterwards, she and Teddy became inseparable. Sadly, although Teddy is a good father and loyally incubates his and Wallace's eggs, the couple have not had a chick of their own.
Teddy doesn’t like other birds coming close to the nests he builds for Wallace. He is really awful at nest building, so Wallace usually fixes it up for him.
Why does he waddle with a limp?
Teddy arrived at the Aquarium with a host of old injuries and some new ones. We think that his feet may have been bound together with wire while he was being held on a fishing vessel before arriving in Cape Town, and this would have caused injuries that have caused Teddy to walk with a permanent limp.
As Teddy gets older, we continuously monitor his weigh to make sure that he stresses his arthritic joints as little as possible. When he is in pain, we carry him between penguin areas to keep pressure off of his feet, but actively encourage him to swim as much as possible.
Even in his advancing age, Teddy still glides gracefully through the water and this helps to reduce his pain and inflammation.
Over the years, Teddy's painful joints have required a number of veterinary procedures - from surgeries to pain medications. We are doing everything possible to ensure that he experiences as little pain as possible. We have even tried some less conventional treatments on Teddy, such as acupuncture -there is some evidence to suggest that it may be an effective way to treat chronic pain in humans, and reduce spinal inflammation in penguins.
Why is he a one-eyed pirate?
In 2015, Teddy developed cataracts (yes penguins get them too)! Infections associated with this damaged the nictitating membrane in Teddy's left eye (the "third eyelid" that allows them to keep their eyes open underwater). Without this membrane, Teddy's left eye resulted in continuous infections and although his cataracts were surgically removed, his eye needed to be enucleated (don't google it).
Why does he sometimes wear shoes?
Ageing penguins are prone to bumblefoot infections - a bacterial infection that affects the soles of their feet. It can make waddling extremely painful and difficult for seabirds such as penguins, and Teddy is, unfortunately, no exception. Teddy developed Stage 3 bumblefoot - a potentially fatal condition (we'll spare you the gruesome details).
Teddy's infected tissues were surgically removed and, to help the healing, he was fitted with a cool pair of custom booties - made by Reef Wetsuits and some generous Aquarium moms!
Made of neoprene, these booties kept his wounds covered and clean and could be easily changed after he swam. The booties helped Teddy to increase his activity and the healing progress significantly. Despite bumblefoot being a chronic infection, with the help of the Reef* booties our little rockhopper could keep on rocking!
*Reef Wetsuits also generously provides us with high-performance dive equipment to cater for the demands of our everyday work.