Victoria was one of the loveliest adult swans that came into care. This will be a hard blog to write… So why write it? To share the story of this beautiful and majestic animal and maybe to help me get some closure after all these years.
Victoria was rescued from the lake with the help of the ACT Water Police. Although she could swim and survive on water, when on land she was vulnerable. We had received many calls from members of the public who were concerned for her safety. She had difficulty getting to the water quickly to escape predators. On the water though, she was fine! Even with the water police helping me it still took us ages to catch this feisty swan! Once caught, examination at our wildlife clinic showed that Victoria had severe foot damage. She was unable to walk properly and walked with a painful limp. She started her recovery residing in a wildlife clinic that I was working in at the time. She was on daily antibiotics and painkillers. During warm days she was carried outside to enjoy the sunshine and to bring some normality to her life. Swans don’t usually spend time indoors! Swans need a long run off to fly away and since she couldn’t walk, we knew she would remain where she was to enable treatment to continue.
At night time however, she had to be carried back inside the clinic. Because she couldn’t run to take off and fly she would be vulnerable to predators at night if left outside. So her nights were spent inside the clinic propped up on towels and pillows to relive pressure on her body. Victoria tolerated being carried in and out each day. She was such a calm animal and accepted us lugging her around and caring for her.
However I was concerned about Victoria being on floor boards at night for too long. Even with the support of pillows and blankets, we began to notice calcification on her keel from pressure. Solution… take her into care at my house! She would have access to a large, secure, grassed outdoor enclosure as well as access to a salt water swimming pool. Further more, I know a great physiotherapist! I figured that between us we could create something to help her foot!
Using my knowledge of animals and their behaviors and the physiotherapist’s knowledge of weight bearing and gait, we designed a splint for Victoria’s foot. Victoria began to thrive in care! She was safe in her large outdoor enclosure at night and during the day she swam in the pool. Her personality began to shine through and she became more active and full of life! Perhaps she missed being carried around like a princess – but she never let that show!
Victoria remained in care for months and months gaining strength and her overall body condition improved. Then one evening before I herded her into her night enclosure she ran across the yard and took off. How a large swan managed to take off and dodge telephone and power lines amazes me! Clearly someone was feeling much better!
So Victoria was successfully released? Well, no! She wasn’t returned to where she came from! I live in suburbia, a considerable distance from the main lake so I had to make sure that she found her way back to where she originally came from.
I went to the closest small suburban lake and sure enough – there she was! I managed to entice her to return to me! She came! I took her home, placed her in her secure enclosure over night then the next morning I took her back to where she originally came from, to her large lake, which was further away. When we arrived at the lake, Victoria trumpeted and another swan swam towards her. I presumed this was her mate. That was a successful release!
But her story doesn’t end there…. A few months later the rangers arrived at the wildlife clinic carrying a swan. It was Victoria! We recognised her by the scaring on her keel. Victoria had been shot! Who would imagine that shooting swans on a lake would be something people would do! It broke my heart and my respect towards the human race shattered into a thousand pieces – there went my innocence!
Unfortunately Victoria was a mess and in a great deal of pain. I held Victoria while the vet gave her an injection to put her to sleep. She slowly went to sleep in my arms and died peacefully being held by a human who had shown her nothing but love. The memories of our months and months together ~ encouraging her to use the splint and walk, swimming with her, feeding her, recapturing her and releasing her all came flooding back. These animals released back into care are the result of some seriously hard work that is often physically and emotionally exhausting. Plus the fact that she had survived in the wild for months, reunited with her partner, lets me know that I gave her the best chance. I just couldn’t save her from a human with a spot light and a gun. One gun shot destroys a life, makes a mockery of our efforts and care and can destroy a carer!
Since Victoria was shot we had to perform a necropsy (an animal autopsy) and retrieve the bullet. I insisted that I stay – although I wasn’t emotionally ready to perform the necropsy myself, I wanted to continue to support Victoria even in death and ensure that she was treated with dignity.
The bullet was retrieved although nothing ever came of that shooting – and we will never know who shot her. I remember standing outside in the sunshine after the necropsy and a small part of me died that day. A spark, or something went out. Although I have seen many animal cruelty cases – the case with Victoria hit me the hardest….
I needed a break after that case. I just had to get away and leave Canberra. I ended up sitting on an island for about three weeks – it took me that long to be able to return to Canberra. I went back to working with wildlife but this case, the case of a beautiful swan named Victoria, still effects me the most…. ❤️
If you see a swan in the wild – think of Victoria. Please enjoy the beauty of these animals and let them be. Please do not feed them – especially bread. Bread can swell in their throat – it pollutes the water and it stops swans from searching for their natural nutritious food. More importantly, if you see or hear of any cases of animal cruelty, where ever you live, please report it. These animals can’t speak for themselves, they need us to do that. It may just be another Victoria that you save…. ❤️
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