Relief for Ernie: Acupuncture eases arthritis for aquarium’s oldest penguin


    NEW ORLEANS, La. (WGNO) -- One African penguin at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas has well surpassed the normal lifespan for his species.

His name is Ernie, and with Ernie's old age comes the typical health problems that many of us face as we grow older.

"He's 36 and a half years old; that doesn't happen. That is extraordinary. In captivity, 25 years is really good. He just keeps going, but he has slowed down," says Senior Aviculturist Tom Dyer.

At 36 years old, Ernie is actually known to be the second oldest African penguin in North America.

Dyer has worked with this exotic bird for decades and has seen his health deteriorate as he struggles with arthritis and vision problems.

Luckily, Ernie is now undergoing bi-weekly acupuncture treatments given by local veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Benbow.

"There is no placebo affect. You can't put a needle in an animal and say, 'you're going to feel better,' and they feel better," Benbow explains.

The sessions last about 10 minutes, as Ernie sits still and relaxed through the process.

"This bird, it wasn't him. He's acting like a 2-year-old penguin. You can't believe the difference in this bird," says Dyer.

"He's doing more turns in the water, he's preening himself, you know, going back into his feathers, he seems to go into the water a lot quicker," says Dr. Benbow.

The goal is to offer less and less treatments over time to allow Ernie's stem cells to heal any damages.

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