Belfast Telegraph

Thugs feared to be behind death of Belfast wildlife park's last mute swan

By Joanne Sweeney

A swan found dead at a Belfast wildlife reserve is feared to have been killed by cruel thugs.

The death of the cygnet, which was abandoned by its parents and is thought to the be the last of a family of mute swans, is a major blow for conservation hopes.

It is particularly devastating for Bog Meadows, near the M1 in west Belfast, because the bird's parents were the first to have bred on the reserve in years.

The pair of swans had four cygnets in the spring, but the parents and three of their offspring later vanished.

The remains of the fourth young swan were found by a wildlife lover on Thursday.

The woman, who asked not to be named, said she was "absolutely devastated" because she visited the reserve most days.

Aidan Crean, chair of the Friends of Bog Meadows group, yesterday told how the parentsof the bird must have felt threatened to have left it behind.

"While we cannot be sure for definite what happened here, it looks likely that it's down to the work of vandals or, at the very least, dog owners who have not had proper control of their animals," he said.

He said: "It is very rare for swan parents to abandon their cygnets – they only tend to move if they perceive a threat.

"So the fact that the parents are no longer around means that they must have been frightened off by a very persistent disturbance.

"This is all very regrettable as we were delighted to hear that a pair had arrived and had nested.

"But it should not take away from all the good work that the Ulster Wildlife Trust (UWT) has done and continues to do, along with a host of volunteers."

Mr Crean added that the parents, who are ringed, had been previously recorded at the Waterworks in the north of the city and Victoria Park in the east more than six years ago.

"These birds crossed the divide of our city and it's a shame that they were not allowed to live and bring up their young at Bog Meadows," he said.

"They would have stayed all year to breed again next year and that could have been the start of swans at the reserve again."

The wildlife lover also told how he believed the animals had been attracted to the park in the first place because of restoration work undertaken by the UWT.

His view was supported by Deborah McLaughlin, a UWT nature reserve officer who said that the swans arrived at Bog Meadows in February before breeding and building a nest.

They had been living in the pond in the conservation part of the reserve known as Bird Hide before moving to the public pond with two of the cygnets. Some time later, they disappeared.

Mrs McLaughlin said: "We cannot be sure what happened the rest of the cygnets – they may have died of natural causes or been carried off by foxes.

"But, certainly, one had remained and had proved popular with visitors and walkers.

"The cygnet might have been an easy target for dogs or foxes because it would not have been able to fly away.

"Most visitors come and enjoy the reserve responsibly, but we we would urge all dog owners to keep their dogs under control at all times to avoid any disturbance to all wildlife in the reserve."

Northern Ireland's population of mute swans is on the wane. The ever-popular freshwater birds have a distinctive orange beak with a black base.

They also pair for life and usually begin building a nest in March and April each year.

The animals eat water plants, as well as small insects and snails, and tend to spend their whole lives in the same area. It's estimated that less than 3,000 pairs breed in Northern Ireland.

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