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11 June 2010, 13:15
A bald penguin has been kitted out today in a new "comfier and snazzier'' wetsuit to help prevent it from getting sunburnt this summer.
Ralph, a 10-year-old Humboldt penguin at Marwell Wildlife in Hampshire, was last year given a wetsuit for the first time to protect its exposed pale pink skin. Penguins moult every year, which usually takes between four to six weeks to complete. But Ralph loses all his feathers in the space of a few days, so new ones do not grow through in time, exposing his skin to the sun.
The wetsuit protects Ralph's sensitive skin until his new feathers have grown through, which his keepers think will take about a month. This year keepers at the zoo near Winchester have redesigned Ralph's outfit with sticky fabric strips to enable them to adjust it to make it more comfortable as the new feathers grow. The made-to-measure suit, which was created from neoprene, a rubber used to make wetsuits for humans, also has the penguin's name emblazoned on it.
Dave White, head keeper for the penguins, said: "The stretchy material lets Ralph move around normally. "The added benefit of the Velcro means that as his new feathers grow through we will be able to adjust its size, so it's always comfy for him. "At the moment he is sitting on two eggs with his partner Coral and she seems happy enough with his new look for this year.''
Humboldt penguins live along the coasts of Peru and Chile within the reaches of the Humboldt Current, a cold current of water running from the Antarctic to the equator, from which they take their name. Humboldt penguins are thought to be declining in number, possibly due to El Nino increasing water temperatures and reducing food supply.