Ask the Swan Specialist
Date: 26 July 2007
I have a 9:15 a.m. meeting with Moscow Zoo head veterinarian, Michael. I wander around the zoo for a few minutes before heading over to the veterinary hospital. There isn't anyone around. I wait for about five minutes and start punching buttons on the door. Even though my Russian is a bit rusty, I figure out some of the buttons belong to various offices. No one answers. I start to hit two more buttons that are exceptionally appealing, but before I do, I notice the wires leading to an alarm system and several red lights. I decide, maybe I shouldn't push any of these buttons.
A few more minutes, and I'm greeted with a traditional Russian hello, followed by impeccable English. Valentin Kozlitin, an avian veterinarian at the hospital, introduces himself and leads me to a series of corridors located throughout the hospital.
In addition to handling the medical duties of the many birds based at the zoo, one of Valentin's specialties include working with the rare Russian Cranes in the eastern part of the country.
Our discussion this morning centers on the pink-feather syndrome. He is very curious and interested in the condition and tells me that he hasn't seen any signs of the bacteria on the zoo's birds.
As we discuss the bacteria, he suggests that we also delve into the possibility that circovirus may also be present. Valentin explains that this virus is lethal in baby birds while chronic in older birds such as pigeons, macaws, African greys and cockatoos. He says he has seen several instances of this disease and that there is no vaccine or cure for the virus, but it does cause a pink discoloration on the nails, feathers and beaks of infected birds. He also states that once the feathers have become acutely infected they soon take on a black appearance. I tell him that we have not seen this in our swans, but will certainly pass the information on to our vets.
Soon, our meeting ends and Michael arrives with a car. We are going to the Zoo's breeding station located approximately an hour-and-a-half outside of Moscow. This facility is run by Igor Muzychenko. In addition to his duties as the Deputy Director of the Moscow Zoo, Igor is also the Director of Breeding Station of Rare Species.
After a long drive, we enter the complex. It is huge and nearly brand new. According to Igor, the complex was first started in 1994. Everything, including the large lake, approximately 37 feet deep, is man-made. The facility houses an assortment of breeding pairs of wild birds and mammals including monkeys, tigers, cheetahs, eagles, ospreys, swans and the swan goose.
On the lake are seven swans which include Mutes and Bewicks.
Igor points out the odd couple on the lake. It seems a swan lost its mate shortly after the nesting season. A lone goose suddenly became the swan family's ardent security force. He chased everyone away so that the nesting female could eat. When the male swan died, the goose began hanging around the swan and now they are best buds.
The breeding area for the swans, swan goose, various other ducks and water birds, looks pretty much like the pen system at Lake Morton in Lakeland, Florida. The pens are made of metal fencing. The only exception is that bird netting has been placed over the top to keep predators and wild birds.
All of the zoo birds have been pinioned. Igor tells me that he has a major problem with cats, dogs and foxes. When the baby birds are born, most are taken off the lake pens and placed in specially-constructed large metal cages to protect them even further.
I am also taken to the incubation area of the facility where large numbers of birds are bred.
I am given access to the rare Siberian Swan Goose. Pavel, a zoologist and the center catches a young goose and holds it as I examine it. It looks quite similar to a swan cygnet.
Igor's wife Julia arrives and we head for a traditional Russian lunch. More discussion follows about the pink-swan syndrome and the care of the swans in captivity. We again discuss the vaccine for the Avian Flu. Even though Moscow does not have this problem, they have already taken precautions by vaccinating the birds in the event that the disease does appear.
I have invited both Igor and Julia to Orlando for a visit to see our facilities at Orange Lake Orlando and Lake Morton in Lakeland. Igor and Julia tell me that they will start the formal process in September, to begin a possible trip to Orlando next year. I have already contacted Nikolai to keep his schedule free to accompany them. I will notify Sheila later this evening, regarding this possible trip so that Geoff and Chris can begin planning some activities during their visit.
I have also asked Sheila to check with Her Majesty's Swan Warden, Dr. Christoper Perrins, in England, about the leg bands for the swans. I hope to have some in hand before I leave Moscow in August.
This has been an incredible opportunity to exchange valuable information. I hope that we can continue this process for many years, especially in regards to the medical issues of swans.
After more than six hours at the station, it now time to go home. This has been an extremely interesting tour and I can't thank Igor and his staff enough for the amazing opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at one of Europe's oldest zoos.
Igor Muzychenko and Pavel
Breeding Station Entrance (1)
Breeding Station Entrance (2)
Baby Swan Goose
Goose and Swan