Penguin Named After Rosie the Riveter Inspires Kids by Learning to Walk with Custom Baby Bouncer

Arizona's OdySea Aquarium helped African penguin Rosie overcome mobility issues caused by skeletal abnormalities by creating a "penguin jump-a-roo" and physical therapy plan for the chick

Rosie the Penguin
Photo: OdySea Aquarium

Rosie is a penguin that hatched into the world ready to inspire.

The African penguin hatched at OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Arizona, in December 2019. Shortly after her arrival, the penguin chick started missing developmental milestones. Rosie — named after Rosie the Riveter and her can-do attitude — was unable to sit up on her own and walk without assistance.

To get answers, Rosie's caretakers at the aquarium helped the penguin through a series of medical exams. The results revealed that the chick had skeletal abnormalities that made it difficult for her to support her weight.

Dedicated to giving Rosie the best life possible, OdySea's animal care and animal health teams started crafting a treatment plan for Rosie to help boost her mobility and increase her strength.

"We had some pretty intense animal welfare meetings with the veterinary team and our animal care team because this happened right as we went into a pandemic, and so we knew that this was going to take a lot of extra work," Jessica Peranteau, the director of animal care and education at the Arizona aquarium, told PEOPLE.

As the group brainstormed rehab strategies, they came up with the idea for a "penguin jump-a-roo."

Rosie the Penguin
OdySea Aquarium

"We talked about how to get her upright into the position that she needed to be starting to experience. I thought of that Johnny Jump Up thing that infants or toddlers use in the doorway," Peranteau said of the baby bouncer that inspired the idea. "So we talked about how the same thing for toddlers that aren't quite walking yet in the fairly formative stages of them learning how to bear weight could help Rosie."

After deciding that the penguin baby bouncer should be part of Rosie's treatment plan, the aquarium had to figure out how to make one.

"We went to all the craft stores and bought some elastic and learned how to sew grommets, and we thought, what could we put the penguin in? Specifically, what could we put Rosie in to make sure she was stabilized but comfortable?" Peranteau said.

The mother to a micro-preemie baby, Peranteau drew on this experience to develop a design that would suit little Rosie.

"I had a micro-preemie once myself, and I remembered those onesies being super, super teeny tiny. So we got some of those micro-preemie onesies that are cotton and soft, and we modified them so that her wings or flippers and her tail could be cut out and could easily snap her in and out of it. And so the penguin jumper was born," the director added.

Rosie the Penguin
OdySea Aquarium

The modified onesies were fitted with elastic straps, which were attached to PVC pipes to hold the penguin up or held by aquarium staff members so Rosie could wear the bouncer and walk at the same time.

After getting comfortable with the custom bouncer — and learning that she could bear her weight safely in the outfit — Rosie started to make literal strides. The penguin jump-a-roo, along with the rest of her physical therapy, helped Rosie go from a penguin who couldn't walk independently to a social bird that likes to waddle around the aquarium visiting her friends in less than two years.

"She seems to find it very enjoyable to watch the sharks and the stingrays," Peranteau said of Rosie's favorite creatures to visit at OdySea.

African penguins are natural swimmers, and Rosie is no different. In the water, Rosie movies with ease. Between her physical therapy and love for swimming, the penguin has built enough strength and confidence to no longer need her penguin baby bouncer, though the aquarium keeps the creation to show guests.

"She is just a thriving member of our penguin colony," Peranteau said of how Rosie is doing now.

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"She does everything that other penguins do in the colony. She just does it in her own way," she added.

Amazed and moved by Rosie's progress since she hatched in 2019, the aquarium sees the perseverant penguin as a shining example of the adversities you can overcome with courage and kindness.

Rosie now serves as an animal ambassador for the aquarium, teaching children about conservation and marine life through OdySea's education programs. The penguin also helps inspire guests every day to embrace their differences.

Rosie's powerful message recently caught the eye of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir. The program captured the penguin meeting a group of children with special needs. The moment and its message of celebrating what makes you unique have warmed the hearts of countless animal lovers.

"I've been doing this for a long time, and that was very grounding for me. That was super emotional in a great and wonderful way because we heard kids saying things like, 'She walks like me,' " Peranteau said of the moment ABC captured.

Rosie the Penguin
OdySea Aquarium

"There is a true relatability there, and we just knew that Rosie had, to sound cliche, a specific purpose to connect with guests and to share her story. It is pretty incredible to see her connect with guests, and particularly those kids at that moment," she added.

Peranteau is hopeful that Rosie will continue to inspire for years to come just by being her adorable self.

"My hope is for the inspired people, all people, to just keep persevering. She did not give up. Because this occurred in the pandemic, we were all in a dark place," Peranteau said of the time after Rosie hatched. "We didn't know what was going on with the state of the world, and Rosie really helped us as much, if not more, than we helped her."

"She is doing her thing, and she is doing it in her own style, and that is perfectly wonderful," she added.

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