A Special Penguin Suit

by Rebecca on August 24, 2009

in Animal Stories,Animals in the News

It’s not easy being bald — unless you’re Ralph, a penguin who keeps his bare skin under wraps with a custom-fit wetsuit. Every summer penguins molt, gradually shedding old feathers as a shiny new set comes in, People Pets reports. But for reasons unknown, Ralph’s feathers all fall out at once, leaving him living in the buff at his Marwell Wildlife Center home in Winchester, England. Marwell animal information officer, Bill Hall, tells Paw Nation that the 10-year-old Humboldt penguin’s skin is left unprotected and uninsulated, vulnerable to cold and sunburn.

“It sounds silly that penguins could get a chill, but they may,” he says. Ralph has lived at Marwell for the last 3 years, and every year, he’s dropped his feathers all at once. (Hall is trying to find out whether he did so at his last home in Germany, but hasn’t been able to get to the bottom of it yet.) The past two years, zookeepers kept Ralph inside for a few weeks until his protective feathers grew in, but this year, that solution wouldn’t do. “This year he mated with a young lady called Coral,” Hall told Paw Nation. “They have two chicks which they’re rearing. We didn’t want to remove Ralph from his parental responsibility.” So Marwell staff fitted Ralph with a made-to-order wetsuit, cut from the leg of a human suit.

The naked penguin had no troubles adjusting to the suit, Hall says. “He actually grooms the suit. He preens like he’s got feathers,” he tells Paw Nation. The other penguins also adapted quickly to Ralph’s new duds. The penguins may be unfazed by Ralph’s stylish suit, but zoo visitors can’t get enough. Ralph has become a star attraction. “Everyone knows who Ralph is. He’s the most asked-for animal in the park,” Hall says. Yet it won’t be long before Ralph can peel off his wetsuit for another year. Hall says the doting dad already has stubble coming in, and should be outfitted with his new feathers in a week or two. “I guess he’ll be back to his old self in no time,” he says. That may or may not be a good thing. After all, says Hall, “he might like all the attention.”






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