The state is planning to eliminate by 2025 the entire population
of the regal wild mute swans, which its Department of Environmental
Conservation calls an aggressive, invasive species and a danger to
people and native wildlife populations.
But protests are mounting to block the plan that would use tactics
such as shooting the birds and puncturing their eggs.
"It's a ludicrous plan," said David Karopkin, founder and director
of GooseWatch NYC, a wildlife advocacy group that said the state's
concerns are overblown.
Most of the state's 2,200 mute swans — both wild and in captivity — are found in highly populated areas, in and around New York City and
its northern suburbs in the Hudson Valley.
"When people live close to each other, conflicts are inevitable, but
we don't kill each other off. But when people live next to animals
and conflicts are inevitable, we respond with lethal methods,"
Although the swans are known to be territorial, especially when
protecting their eggs or their young, there are no known attacks on
humans in New York, Karopkin said.
The state did not immediately respond to a request for comment on
any mute swan attacks reported in New York.
Like the population control plans for mute swans already enacted in
Michigan, Maryland and Delaware, the New York proposal targets only
birds in the wild, not the ones on private lands or in city parks.
Originally brought in from Europe in the late 1800s to add flair to
American estates, mute swans are now consuming large amounts of
aquatic vegetation needed by native waterfowl and contaminating the
water with their feces, which can contain the bacteria E.Coli, state
wildlife experts said.
"With mute swans, there is considerable concern about destruction to
native habitat by this non-native species," said wildlife expert Dr.
Paul Curtis, who works in the Department of Natural Resources at
The mute swan's steadily increasing population in New York over
several decades has put a strain on native species like the black
tern, an endangered wetlands bird that has now disappeared where the
swans have colonized, he said.
"I think people have sort of a romantic connection with swans...But
they need to be managed responsibly," Curtis said.
This week marked a final chance for the public to comment on the
state's draft plan to control the wild swan population employing
methods such as "oiling, puncturing, shaking, freezing, replacing or
removing eggs; destruction of nests; sterilization of birds;
shooting; and capture and removal of swans to be euthanized or
turned over to persons licensed to keep the birds in captivity."
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GooseWatch NYC said it has collected 20,000 signatures on an online
petition to scrap the proposal. State Senator Tony Avella of Queens
has introduced a bill that would put a two-year moratorium on any
"I was horrified to learn that our state wildlife agency would make
such an extreme, unfounded proposal, and do not believe that the DEC
has provided evidence to justify the elimination of these beautiful
swans," Avella said.
The black-masked, white bird's body typically measures between 50 to
60 inches in length, with wingspan reaching up to 90 inches. Despite
their name, mute swans are capable of making hissing, grunting and
snorting sounds, although they don't honk like other swans.
Over the past century, mute swans have become a symbol of love. The
birds mate for life, and when two mute swans sit beak to beak, the
curve of their long necks make a heart-shape.
Animal advocates like Karopkin said there has been little proof the
swans are damaging the environment.
"Non-native does not equal invasive," he said.
"There are many examples of wildlife in North America that were
brought here from other continents that have been successful. It's a
subjective decision that the harm is outweighing the benefit the
animals provide," Karopkin said.
But to wildlife experts like Professor Curtis, the mute swans pose
the same kind of danger to the natural habitat as other non-native
species, including the notorious snakehead fish, a predator native
to rivers and lakes in Asia and a dangerous, invasive species in
"It's a fair comparison," Curtis said. "Because both snakehead fish
and swans are invasive, exotic species. Both have potential
detrimental impacts on the environment, and so I think both federal
and state government agencies want to minimize the impacts of
invasive species, whether insects or birds."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)
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