Written by Becci of Liberation BC, on May 25th, 2010
If you’ve spent any time at the Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park, you’ve almost definitely seen the Mute Swans. They are large, strikingly lovely birds, and certainly one of the most memorable and defining aspects of the lagoon.
Did you know, however, that they aren’t a native species to the Park or even to the continent? Mute Swans actually come from Europe and Asia. To prevent the birds from spreading and becoming an invasive species, their wings are clipped:
The swans are pinioned (wing tendons clipped) to keep this introduced species from spreading to other parts of the province. Unlike clipped wings, it is a permanent surgery. Some may find this cruel but it is the only way to ensure that a non-native species does not spread. (Stanley Park Ecology Society)
That’s right, the swans cannot fly, and never will. They are essentially captives–living decorations for visitors to the park to enjoy. Yes, some DO find this cruel. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most people would. I know that I’ll never forget the day that I saw one of the swans desperately struggling to take off from the water. Destroying the birds’ wings did not destroy their desire to fly.
The fact that the swans are denied their right to fly is only one problem associated with their damaged wings, actually. The birds are injured–or more often, killed–with surprising frequency, generally because they can only escape danger by staying on the Lagoon. They cannot take to the air. Despite warnings posted throughout the area, people very often unleash their dogs and allow them to run around freely. I suspect that these are the same people who take their dogs, unleashed, for walks throughout our busy city, foolishly assuming that they know well enough how the dogs will react in every single situation. The swans, who are very slow on land, cannot escape when a dog decides to express its natural instincts and attack. It happens all the time.
Wild animals, like raccoons and coyotes, have also attacked the birds, and so have humans. A few years ago, some idiot threw a large rock at a mother swan on her nest, breaking her leg. Another swan and her babies were intentionally doused with oil. (Two of the three cygnets died as a result.) People who, again, ignore signs, have killed swans by riding their bikes too quickly on paths around the lagoon.
Right now there are close to 10 swans living on the lagoon, and even the park admits that this is too many:
There are also, technically, too many swans on the Lagoon. In the wild, only one pair would inhabit a lake this size (SPES)
Let there be no misunderstanding here: I love Stanley Park, and I love the Lost Lagoon. I think it’s one of the best places in our wonderful city. But the swans should be considered an embarrassment to the otherwise fantastic park. It’s not as if we’re lacking for wildlife–the park and lagoon are home to literally hundreds of species of animals, including Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles. With such fascinating creatures living and flourishing freely in the park, why do we need captive swans?
Learn more from Stanley Park Swans. The author is clearly in favor of the swans being in the lagoon, but the website is otherwise a great resource.
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