Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 19:10 UK

Bald penguin gets sunburn wetsuit

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Ralph the penguin in his wetsuit - as Bill Hall describes how it was made

A bald penguin has been given a wetsuit to wear at a Hampshire wildlife park to protect him from sunburn.

Ralph, a nine-year-old Humboldt penguin, lost all of his feathers in one day while moulting, instead of the usual four to six weeks.

It left him with sensitive pink skin, so Marwell Wildlife keepers cut up a staff member's wetsuit to make the kit.

It will protect Ralph until his new feathers have grown, which may take another two to three weeks.

The leg of an adult wetsuit was used for the outfit.

David Schofield, head keeper for the penguins, said: "At first the other penguins were curious but it wasn't long before they recognised and accepted Ralph again.

"He doesn't seem to mind the wetsuit and is able to swim and move around normally.

Ralph swimming in his specially-made wetsuit
Keepers made the special outfit by cutting the leg off an adult wetsuit

"It was quite easy to fit and we were able to customise it by creating the extra openings for his flippers once he was in it."

Although they cannot fly, penguins have specialised feathers for swimming and each year undergo a complete moult.

They normally shed their feathers at the same time as new ones come through.

Humboldt penguins are native to the cold coasts of Peru and Chile.

Marwell Wildlife said they were thought to be declining in number, possibly due to increased water temperatures and reduced food supply.



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