Philadelphia Zoo uses acupuncture to heal swan’s bumblefoot

Jackson's bumblefoot. Credit: Philadelphia Zoo.
Jackson’s bumblefoot is a fairly common occurrence in captive birds. Credit: Philadelphia Zoo

Swans today don’t know how good they have it. On-call veterinarians. Private ponds.

Weekly acupuncture.

Philadelphia Zoo specialists have been administering the procedure to Jackson, its black-neck swan with a bad wheel.

Dubbed bumblefoot, pimply sores form at the bottom of the foot inflame, harden and crack. Left untreated, the infection can kill. Alternative treatments are slow, so the zoo thought outside the box. A common occurrence, apparently.

“We are moving a little bit away from the western medicine that we have concentrated on as a zoo profession,” said veterinarian Donna Laleggio.

Zoos have experimented with laser and even chiropractic treatments to ease one malady or another in various species.

Tina Fuoco, acupuncturist to the wild kingdom, said the treatment increases blood flow to the damaged area. As a result, Jackson becomes so relaxed, he doesn’t fight back.

For about 15 minutes, Jackson is held by an assistant while little silver needles puncture the bumbles on its left foot.

He even gets a little high.

“It has to with endorphin release,” Fuoco said. “It’s somewhat like a runner’s high. There’s that calming side.”

Jackson’s next treatment is scheduled for Friday.


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