October 24, 2014
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Swan killing raises questions over efforts to control species
Nancy Lavin
LEADING THE WAY: This swan and cygnets was photographed by Warwick naturalist photograpoher David Chartier this spring in Johnston . It is not the swan featured in this story.

The recent killing of a male swan on Warwick Pond by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is prompting Warwick residents and animal rights activists to protest what the DEM maintains is a crucial method of population control.

The DEM considers mute swans to be a non-native, invasive species, brought over from Europe more than 100 years ago. Due to their aggressive behavior and environmental impact, the DEM employs several methods to keep the population at bay, including killing swans reported to be especially aggressive.

According to DEM Principal Wildlife Biologist Paul Ricard, after a several-year decline in the swan population, the number of these birds in Rhode Island is on the rise once again, making the euthanasia of aggressive swans especially important.

Warwick resident Connie Mero questioned both the humanity and the logic of these actions after her husband witnessed the swan recently killed on Warwick Pond. Mero said it seems irrational that the swans alive today that were born here even if their parents were not are still considered non-native species.

“If it was a person born to a non-native parent, we would still consider them a citizen,” Mero said. “My neighbors, my husband and I, we are all very upset.”

In this particular case, a property owner reported a male swan attacking her family and friends in the water and going after small dogs, according to Gail Mastrati, a spokesperson for DEM. Mastrati added that the swan also exhibited aggressive behavior toward DEM staff sent to capture him.

“If we follow up on a report and see that a swan is being aggressive, we’re obligated to remove the birds to protect the public’s well being,” said Ricard.

Although not at the pond during the incident, Mero described the situation differently.

“We’ve never had problems with a swan going after our dogs, ever,” she said.

Lesley Doonan, chapter coordinator of Volunteer Services for Animals, agreed that swans are generally not aggressive unless provoked.

“Swans are peaceful, beautiful creatures,” she said. “If something did happen with a dog and a swan, it’s probably the dog’s fault for harassing the swan, especially if the swan is trying to protect its babies.”

This particular male swan was with a female swan and four cygnets, according to Mero.

“They [swans] don’t go looking for trouble, trouble finds them,” said Doonan, adding that a swan’s strongest instinct is to protect its young. “How heartless can people be to not see that it’s just trying to protect itself and its family?”

Doonan said she wondered how the female swan and her four cygnets would survive without their male protector, explaining that swans mate for life.

A report on this species of mute swan in Rhode Island by wildlife biologist Charles Allin paints a different picture.

“Mute swans … have become a symbol for beauty, grace, tranquility, love and a host of other anthropomorphic expressions,” according to Allin’s report. “Unfortunately, the swans’ personality does not match its image.”

The report describes swans as aggressive and territorial, with documented incidents of swans attacking other waterfowl, children and dogs.

Mastrati also noted that only about 15 swans are killed based on these reports per year, and that the swan population can reach up to 400 birds at any given time in particularly concentrated areas, such as Pawtuxet Cove.

This concentration is normal, especially at times of molting, according to Ricard, who explained that since during the molting period swans are unable to fly and more vulnerable to attack, they often gather together as a survival strategy.

While gathering together may be strategic for the swans, the large numbers of them can wreak havoc on their ecosystem, according to Ricard. The top two adverse effects of a large number of swans in one area are water pollution from the birds’ fecal matter and a decrease in submerged aquatic vegetation, which is destroyed through the birds’ feeding behavior.

In addition to responding to distress calls regarding aggressive swans, the DEM has used egg addling since the late 1970s to control the swan population. This management program involves temporarily removing fertilized eggs from their nest, terminating the embryo inside and returning the now lifeless egg to the nest. By returning the egg, the bird believes it is still developing, and will not continue laying more eggs.

While Mastrati said the DEM would continue to employ these population control methods for what it sees as an invasive species, both Mero and Doonan vowed to continue fighting back by taking the matter to the Warwick City Council.

Doonan added that in addition to possibly trying to modify local laws that classify swans as an invasive species, she also wanted to emphasize humane education for people living near the swans, both children and adults.

“We need to give these poor animals a chance for protection,” she said. “And that includes changing the attitudes people have towards them.”

Mero suggested that perhaps the real non-native species are not the mute swans, but people at the pond.

“Moral of the story is a swan is a non-native species and is subject to being destroyed, yet any person from out of town can come and abuse the water and land at no cost,” she said.


Comments
8 comments on this item

A great story and I support DEM in its attempt to remove and or destroy these invasive animals 100%. Like the European Carp, Gold and Koi fish Norway rat, invasive water weeds, and all other invasive plants and animals, the Mute swans needs to be removed if the ecology of our lakes and land is to be restored.

Like the European Carp, the Mute Swan is part of the reason that Warwick Pond is such an ecological mess, The swans unlike the native geese and duck are year round residents of the pond and the tend to pollute the lake with their wastes and to pull up/ destroy other plants that the native geese and duck cannot. Their aggressive nature tends to scare away the native aquatic birds, and due to their large size and feeding activities they tend to stir up the sediments of the lakes, rivers and estuaries and help reduce the oxygen in them .

This animal is Not Native to North America, and they have no natural predators except Man, and if nothing else there should be a year long open season on these animals to remove them.. Just because they are beautiful to look at doesn't mean they are good for Warwick Pond ecology or in any other aquatic habitat they are found in RI.

if you have access to a computer do a web search look up and read the following DNR-Mute Swans- Invading Michigan Waters, which will give you excellent reasons for the removal and the elimination of Mute Swans in our Lakes, Rivers and Brackish water environments. More scientific reason for the removal and elimination of Mute Swans are the following articles if you do a search for them on your computer. Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and Mute Swans Threaten Chesapeake Bay Ecosystems on CNN.com.

But by all means keep up with your wrong headed out cry against killing the Mute Swans and Warwick Pond will never properly recover. Unfortunately, in your out cry against removing of the swans, you will allow an invasive animal to multiply and continue its destruction on all aquatic environments. This kind of Pro-Mute Swan is the worst kind of bad environmentalism that any group could possibly advocate. Save you admiration and dedication to seem that the State continues to fine polluters, and advocate better water shed policies ,for Warwick Pond and every where else. Also you should be advocating that ALL home septic systems should be eliminated and that All houses and business should be hooked up to the local Sewage Plant.

But of course your wrong headed animal rights people and deluded environmentalist will not find that as glamorous! God forbid that you would put this kind of dedication, money or energy into any real environmental issue and would make a difference to Warwick Pond...!

Sincerely,

Ray H. of North Providence , Watershed Steward, and 35 years as an environmentalist, volunteer aquatic biologist, and surveyor for invasive plants and animals.

Don't forget the worst invasive agent, European settlers.

If they had stayed where they were supposed to, this continent would be a paradise of nature loving aboriginal people.

Well removing the European settlers is a financial and legal impossibility, but by all means you can give it a start by beginning to remove your self if you are so eager to go....!?

Beside if the Native American population would of eventually reached large enough proportions to have ALSO eventually effected the Environment in a negative way.... But then why not just advocate removing every one?!? No ?!? Too Draconian for you, or do you find that is an equally ridicules suggestion as your suggestion was.?!?

However, it is Possible to remove Invasive Animals like the Mute Swan, and in removing INVASIVE animals and plants you are showing that you have a Pro-Active Environmentalist Agenda that is FOR the NATIVE Birds, Mammals, Fish and Invertebrates....!

It is also better to remove invasive animals, that to have a ridiculous anti-environmental stance advocates that the Invasive Mute Swans remain at Warwick pond and else where. By advocating that the Mute Swans to remain, you would in effect be advocating for the continued destruction of Warwick Pond aquatic environment....

If the Mute Swans were permanently Removed then you would SEE a greater diversity of Native Birds i.e. Native Ducks and Geese using the pond ....!!! Also if there was an Pro-active removal of the European Carp in Warwick Pond you would see greater diversity in the fish and invertebrates Living IN Warwick Pond...!

And if Everyone living on or near Warwick Pond was really serious about the environmental health of Warwick Pond, Everyone would hook up to the Sewage System and stop using their septic tanks that has been polluting Warwick Pond for the last 50 years or more.... Then you would See a miraculous transformation in the improvement of the water quality of the pond...!!!

The above proposals I have made are Realistic, they are Pro-environmental and they would have definite and Positive effects on the Water Quality of Warwick Pond. Also these realistic proposals would result in improving and allow for a GREATER Diversity of Native Animals and Plants living in Warwick Pond.

This is what real Pro-Environmentalist do, they advocate for and works towards the improving of the environment, water quality, and this in turn allows for the improvement of greater diversity of native plants and animals...!!!

In going this route it would ALSO improve the quality of your neighborhood as well...!!!

Sparrows are also an invasive species. Let's get rid of them too.

Big populations can be eliminated. Look what happened to the passenger pigeons. Arm everyone and get rid of every threat.

Sparrows in England and dying out but they are Invasive here, by all means contact the English government and set up a program to capture and reintroduce US invasive sparrows back to England..

Also the same thing is true with Mute Swans in England, by all means you can contact some conservation group in England and try to set up a program in which to repatriate invasive RI/US Mute Swans back to England IF you are willing to pay for all the expense ....

By the way Justanidiot the Passenger Pigeons were Native Birds that were OVER hunted DUE to Lack of Hunting Regulations, and this has nothing to do with the Invasive Mute Swan /Invasive Bird issues at all... However it was because of the extinction of the passenger pigeons that HELPED start endangered species and environmental issues, as well as proper hunting laws....!!! You are comparing apples to oranges and they are NOT the same issue at all... .

I can show you 1/2 dozen or more scientific articles and one written by the Audubon Society that shows why Mute Swans need to be Removed from ALL aquatic environments. The Mute Swans are a danger/threat to our North American Native Swans, and there is no law protecting the mute swans which means any one can kill them...

You have yet to Show Any Scientific Proof why they should be protective, nor will you find an such scientific proof...!

But then again in protecting them you are just saying to the world I do not care about the Invasive Species issues and I do not care about Aquatic Environments that the Mute Swans are polluting and destroying... !!!

How does it feel to be for the polluting and the destruction of Warwick pond....???

These same people wouldnt lift a finger to clean up their own government corruption and issues, and get RI out of last place all the time. What a bowl of sorry nuts.

I was fishing at Turner Reservoir in East Providence yesterday 8/21/13 and the DEM had 4 motor boats and several kayaks rounding up swans looks like they were capturing males only. So when does a species become non-invasive? These swans have been here for over 100 years now, according to when they were first brought here. The time frame of their first escape are speculative. So lets say their first escape into the wild was 75 years ago. The species has now established itself here over the course of 75 years. So can they still be considered an invasive species if they have been here for almost 100 years?

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