First Mt. A-born swans die over winter

IMG_5533The two swans in Mount Allison’s care have died over the course of this winter. The university says both animals died of natural causes.

Now, facing complex legal issues, the university is working out whether it will replace the birds.

The first swan died Nov. 18, 2014. The second died on March 1. No autopsies have been carried out, and none are planned.

The female swans were born in the Spring of 1996, two of the cygnets born to former Herbert and Muriel that year.

The university announced both deaths in a Facebook post on March 18. From there, the news spread quickly. The post was shared over 400 times.

Some commenters on the post recalled stopping to watch the swans after classes. Many called for the swans to be replaced.

One anonymous poster on Sackville’s Yik Yak even suggested (perhaps jokingly) that a song be written in the swans’ memory, like the one for Li’l Sebastian of the television show Parks and Recreation – a miniature horse so beloved by the residents of fictional Pawnee, Indiana that the town’s government held a memorial concert.

Mt. A must now decide whether it will – or can – replace the swans. The university requires lots of information before its administrators can decide, said Robert Hiscock, the university’s director of marketing and communications. The university currently holds a permit to own mute swans, which are considered exotic animals.

Both the federal and provincial governments are looking to update animal control legislation.

New Brunswick’s exotic animal task force was expected to report its recommendations by the end of March 2015.

As mute swans are native to Europe, Environment Canada views them as an invasive species. The agency also says the swans are a risk to people, habitats, and other animals. While it’s well-known in Sackville that swans are deeply territorial around their nests, they rarely injure humans.

Despite the difficulties of mute swan ownership, the birds have other qualities which make them easy to keep.

“Some swans are migratory. Mute swans are typically not,” Hiscock said. “And that’s good, so if you have swans, you don’t have to go looking for them all the time when Fall comes. You don’t have to go down to Florida and find them.”

Perhaps because mute swans rarely travel more than short distances, wild populations have grown rapidly in parts of Ontario and British Columbia over the past decade.

Providing mute swans with food or nesting materials is discouraged by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Government regulation is only one piece of the puzzle.

Hiscock said that the university-owned Swan Pond may need repair, if swans are to move back in.

“In the last year or two, the pond itself has changed. It’s shallower. The island that was in the middle is no longer there, and that’s where the swans used to nest.

The artificial pond was once home to two islands large enough to park a car on – which, thanks to some enterprising pranksters, has happened at least a couple of times in Mt. A’s history.

Today, one of the islands is gone, and the other has shrunk so much that the swans began nesting on the pond’s shore.

The pond is also shallower than it once was, Hiscock said.

Any assessment of the Swan Pond’s fitness to host swans will have to wait until the ice melts.

The swans’ parents were Herbert and Muriel, the only pair of swans to produce cygnets at Mt. A. The other cygnets were sold along with Muriel shortly after Herbert’s death from an illness in 1996.

The swans lived at the Swan Pond in the warmer months, where they were cared for by Mt. A’s grounds crew. They lived at a Port Elgin farm during winter.

The university has owned at least ten swans since the first pair arrived in 1968. A gift from then-Board of Regents member Campbell MacPherson of St. John’s, N.L., the two males lived until 1979.

Herbert and Muriel moved onto Swan Pond in 1994, a gift from the class of ’79. They replaced Otis, an Ottawa-born swan who arrived with his mate in 1979.

Herbert and Muriel were named for their donor, Herbert Pottle, and his wife Muriel.

These swans had not been named.

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