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Group wants to protect Manito swans

Fri., April 21, 2006

If the city of Spokane is going to replace two mute swans run down and killed at Manito Park earlier this month, then more needs to be done to protect and care for the birds, a group of swan supporters said on Thursday.

The Junior League of Spokane announced on Thursday it has offered to donate up to $2,500 to the city parks department to replace the dead swans.

But first, the Spokane Parks Foundation wants to establish an ongoing swan protection and care fund to make sure that any new swans do not fall victims to the repeated violence that has marred the legacy of the graceful birds at Manito Park.

“The way we treat animals says a lot about the kind of people we are and the kind of people who make up our community,” said Steve Jones, a foundation board member.

Members of the public are being asked to contribute to the fund, which would be used to pay for veterinary care, winter lodging at a local farm, dispensers with appropriate food, educational efforts, warning signs and a set of undetermined security measures. Foundation officials said they are hoping that enough money is donated to pay for increased park security patrols at night.

Mary Butler, executive director of the foundation, said it may be several months before any new swans show up at the park. She said her organization wants to get its protection and education effort under way before exposing a new pair of birds to the risks of Manito Park.

The two dead male swans were believed to have been struck by a vehicle in the early hours of April 7. One was found dead alongside a park road just south of the pond. The other was taken to an animal clinic and put down several hours later because its injuries were so severe.

The deaths to what are normally friendly and approachable birds marked the sixth violent incident involving swans at Manito. They were the last survivors from a brood of three cygnets hatched in 2000 by Helen and Philip, an older pair of swans named after their donors.

Helen was killed in 2001, and her mate, Philip, was injured in February 2005. Philip died at a private home last fall. The other of their offspring was also run over by a motorist and killed in 2004. In 2002, one of the swans was kidnapped and dumped in the Spokane River. It was found and returned to the park. A baby swan was killed in 1989.

“People have actually tried to set them on fire” with lighter fluid, said Taylor Bressler, park maintenance manager. “It isn’t just the swans,” he said. All of the waterfowl at the park are subject to harassment.

During a news conference Thursday at the duck pond, one resident asked when the park would be equipped with security cameras, and then walked away. Others have called for closing the park road on the south side of the pond, or putting up gates and closing it at night. Increased security patrols have been sought for years.

Councilman Brad Stark said several security measures are under discussion, but no decisions have been made.

Bressler said he hopes to find two yearling swans that can be purchased and brought to Spokane, but the city also needs to consult the state wildlife department before importing a bird that is known for being invasive in Maryland and elsewhere. He said that the males would have their wings clipped so that they would not be able to fly and potentially breed outside of the park.

Mute swans, which stand four feet tall and weigh about 27 pounds at maturity, are non-migratory and native to the temperate climates of Europe and western Asia. They are especially treasured for park settings since the graceful curves of their necks evoke a sense of romance. In gestures of affection, they are known to put their beaks together so that their necks create the outline of a heart. They will often take food from human hands.

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