The Mute Swan: The International Symbol of World Peace Under Attack

By Sheila Bolin, CEO, The Regal Swan Foundation, Inc.

Sheila Bolin
Sheila Bolin

Mute swans, the international “Symbol of World Peace,” are under attack as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has once again vetoed bill S1555 protecting this important indicator species in New York.

The mute swan was given the prestigious peace title by both the United States and the world in the early 1960s, but due to hunting interests and blatant misinformation disseminated by wildlife officials, the bird has suddenly become the poster child for the campaign against invasive species in New York and across the United States.

This is the second time both the New York Senate and New York Assembly have overwhelmingly passed a bill to protect the mute swan! What taxpayers aren’t being told is that the research justifying this massive eradication campaign by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and other wildlife agencies was never conducted. This was readily admitted to by wildlife officials during the International Swan Symposium held in Maryland in 2014!

In fact, current scientific research by some of the world’s leading swan and wetland habitat specialists, as well as scientists, disputes many of the arguments being used to condemn the mute swans in New York and across the United States. Current scientific research identifies the mute swan as a critical indicator species alerting scientists to changes in the environment including heavy metals and harmful microorganisms.

The New York DEC even admits in its latest plan that the mute swan is indeed a sentinel species but continues to ignore this research in its effort to kill 1,400 wild, healthy mute swans and mutilate another 800. This is being conducted through taxpayer monies with no scientific research, no National Environmental Policy Act studies, and, most importantly, no real mute swan counts, which according to Atlantic Flyway Commission members, has never been conducted throughout the United States.

The real reason this eradication program is being conducted is to clear mute swans from areas that will be highly conducive for the introduction of the larger trumpeter swan for trophy waterfowl hunting to increase wildlife coffers. Trumpeter swan eggs were transported from Alaska, at taxpayer expense, to the Milwaukee Zoo, where they are incubated, and then the birds, once mature, were released into areas that they have never inhabited. Michigan wildlife officials admitted at the International Swan Symposium that the program was not sustainable and would run out of money soon. The number of trumpeters released in Yellowstone National Park by wildlife officials diminished quickly when they weren’t being supplementarily fed by these same wildlife officials. In effect, these hand-raised birds were not able to live in a wild setting. Yet, these programs continue to exist and misinformation regarding the mute swan is perpetrated so that the eradication programs and trumpeter-introduction programs can continue at taxpayer expense.

Mute swans are constantly mislabeled by wildlife officials as a detriment to native species, as being highly aggressive, and as a species that produces high nitrogen levels to the environment. Yet, when wildlife officials are asked to specifically produce the scientific evidence used to make these assumptions, these same officials can only quote anecdotal data.

What New York DEC officials and others aren’t telling taxpayers is that while mute swans are being classified as invasive and non-native, New York’s DEC and other U.S. wildlife agencies continue to introduce and release Asian pheasants and brown trout into the environment on an annual basis. In New York alone, approximately 30,000 Asian pheasants and 1.8 million brown trout are released annually. These two species have been shown through current scientific research to be highly detrimental to the environment and native species. The European trout has been labeled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as one of the world’s top 100 most invasive species.

Yet, the New York DEC continues to introduce these highly invasive and non-native species so that monies can be generated through hunting permits and licenses. The looming question for New York taxpayers and Gov. Cuomo is: Why is New York’s DEC allowed to ignore current scientific research and kill mute swans while violating its own non-native and invasive species laws by introducing Asian pheasants and European trout? More important, how are the New York DEC and other wildlife agencies allowed to capriciously label any type of wildlife as invasive or non-native simply to benefit their needs at any given time?

How does New York’s DEC justify the killing of an entire species, the mute swan, in the name of conservation, when it economically impacts the citizens and the state of New York? According to the New York DEC’s 2013-2014 “Environmental Conservation” Executive Budget, “hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses generate approximately $47 million per year that is deposited into the Conservation Fund.” The New York DEC’s own website touts its implementation of New York’s Watchable Wildlife Program with wildlife-related events across the state, because, “birds are big business in New York,” contributing approximately $4.2 billion in tourism through bird watching and photography.

With this in mind, how can New York’s DEC continue to justify the killing of mute swans without any scientific research, while going against the wishes of both the taxpayers and politicians in New York? More important, why didn’t Gov. Cuomo sign this bill into law to protect the international “Symbol of World Peace?”


Sheila Bolin’s Credentials

  • Sheila Bolin is the CEO/president and cofounder of The Regal Swan® Foundation, Inc., based in Orlando, Florida. Bolin serves on the RSF’s education/research/veterinary team, has coauthored two swan-care and habitat-related books, conducted numerous swan-education workshops, co-published veterinary care and habitat-related articles for numerous journals and magazines, and has appeared on television, radio, and other media for her work with swans. Since 2005, she has served as an Ask the Swan Specialist for the Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based website www.stanley-park-swans.com.
  • Bolin was named one of the top 28 conservationists in the world by the prestigious 2016 Indianapolis Prize for her work with the world’s species of swans.
  • In 2014, Bolin spoke at the International Swan Symposium held in Easton, Maryland. This symposium hosted some of the world’s leading swan experts.
  • In 2014, Bolin was named one of the top 39 conservationists in the world by the Indianapolis Prize.
  • In 2013, the Regal Swan Foundation, Inc., was named the recipient of the prestigious international John Muir Non-Profit for Conservation Award for its research work with swans.
  • In 2010, Bolin was named Scientist of The Month by the Gland, Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature for her swan research work. Bolin also serves as a member of the UCN’s Swan Specialists Group.

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