The Oh So Sad Story of Swan 2571

2571 is the number carried by a hospital ring applied to the leg of a beautiful adult male swan rescued from Rhoose Point, Vale of Glamorgan on Thursday 25th. August. (See earlier report).  He had swallowed fishing line, and had become extremely lethargic; what we couldn’t know was whether or not he had also swallowed a hook, and if he had, whether or not the guilty fisherman had tried brute force to retrieve his tackle. Fully aware of the possible consequences if this had happened, we decided immediately an X-ray was essential. Next stop; the National Swan Sanctuary at Shepperton.

The X-ray investigation proved negative, but the swan remained very subdued for the next 24 hours. At this point he suddenly recovered, and seemed to remember he had left a ‘wife and four children’ back in South Wales – to use the words of his carer, he became an ‘utter beast’!

We brought him home on August 27th. We’ve done this so many times over the years; we’ve come not to expect a joyful reunion, and so this one turned out, but within 24 hours, the family was back together again as a unit.

We were called again to Rhoose Point on the evening of 8th. October, just as the light was fading – this time to deal with one of the cygnets which was trailing 10 m. of discarded fishing line. The bird was feeding well, so the line was cut free and the bird was released immediately. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe the cob was bit ‘off’ that evening, or maybe it was the perceived threat posed by the would be rescuer of the tackled cygnet.

To be on the safe side, we visited again on 10th. The cob seemed a bit slow coming to food, but he did feed. There was a suggestion he might have been ‘gaping’ a bit. Our assessment is capture at that point would have been virtually impossible.

On the 13th, a call from a local resident suggested the cob was indeed poorly – he was alone, and had moved to the more westerly lagoon. This was a day when we were involved with problems involving a fox attack at the Swansea Yacht Club, a cable strike at Marshfield on the Gwent Levels and concern about the health of a cygnet at Caldicot in Monmouthshire; in short we were unable to travel to Rhoose Point until the following day. In the event, and despite an extensive search of both the east and west lagoons, there was no sign of ‘our’ swan.

As we were preparing to leave – late afternoon – we had a call from some one who reported a swan which had been on the mud in Barry Old Harbour all day; a very precise description was given as to his  location. It was only a minor detour on our return to Newport. Again, despite an extensive search, we could find no sign of the swan. Just to be sure, we asked Steve, who lives just round the corner, to check again the following morning, Again, result negative.

Six days then passed; now it is 20th. October. We received a call from another Steve who works for The Vale of Glamorgan Council. He had received a call from a member of the public reporting what she took to be a very sick swan at The Knap, which having been drained, starting on 3rd. October, was almost completely empty. That morning was extremely busy, with two juvenile swans ‘down’ on the M4 between junctions 26 and 27, with the traffic chaos which would be expected. Anyway, we arrived at The Knap mid-morning. The sick bird was obvious; he was sitting alone in 6” of foul smelling water containing a mass of very fine particulate matter. He seemed to be having great difficulty breathing, and in so doing was making the most alarming noises; we’d never heard anything like it in thirty years. He wasn’t too difficult to catch; there was no mistaking which bird this was; he carried the hospital ring 2571 he’d been wearing since 25th. August.

Uppermost in our minds was the fact that, in the first weeks of 2008, a total of 28 swans in this area had died from the results of a bacterial infection clostridium perfringens , and our concern was that history might be about to repeat itself.

We decided immediately our swan needed to be on a drip as quickly as possible, and this was best achieved by obtaining help from South West Swan Rescue in Swindon. The intention was, when the swan was strong enough, we would move him to the National Swan Sanctuary at Shepperton. The drive to Swindon was accompanied by the distressing sounds of the bird struggling for breath.

Even more distressing was the phone call we had on our way home from Swindon – less than an hour after setting out – to say the swan had died; 2571, our beautiful cob was no more. In the circumstances, we felt it essential a post mortem be carried out to establish, if at all possible, the cause of death. At the risk of damaging some of the evidence, we accepted Sue’s offer of freezing the body. At least, this took the pressure off, and so allowed us the space to make the best possible arrangements. Having been closely involved in the 2008 episode, we were so pleased Alex Barlow of AHVLA at Lower Langford, Somerset agreed once again to help out.

The body was delivered on Monday 31st. October, and now we know what the truth is. The post mortem revealed a necrotic lesion in the trachea, the effect of which was to create a one way valve which, in turn, was making it increasingly impossible for the swan to breath; it was this which killed the swan. The contents of the gizzard were analysed; there was very little there, but significantly, there were small pieces of brass which were the remnants of an angling swivel.

The conclusion to be drawn from all of this is death was the direct result of an angling related incident in which a hook was ingested and became caught in the trachea. The damage so caused turned septic, and eventually surrounding tissues started to die off – turned necrotic. Knowing how quick this process is once it starts, it is extremely unlikely the 25th. August episode was the turning point; it is much more likely to have been on a date from early October onwards.

This is a desperately sad story, especially as it seems clear,  that as a result of the loss of the male, the rest of the family dispersed – a few days later, the lagoon was occupied by two new adults and four other cygnets, and when we last visited on 28th. October, there were no swans there at all.

And to end on an even sadder note, when our swan was release at Rhoose Point on 27th. August, he weighed 11.4 kg; when we picked him up at the start of his final journey, he weighed only 8.35 kg. In the course of his suffering, he had lost over a quarter of his weight.


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