Ask the Swan Specialist
Date: 22 October 2007
Today, Sarah, Stanley-Park-Swans website administrator, was contacted by Colleen regarding the current wildfires in California. Both inquired as to what should be done for captive pinioned swans in the path of a wildfire even though the swans are on a lake. Sarah asked that we respond with some helpful advice regarding the potential harm from smoke inhalation as well as evacuation issues. Although not every contingency can be planned, we will try to cover as much as possible in this particular request.
Just like hurricanes, wildfires can pose health risks for swans. There should be several assessments regarding any type of evacuation, especially during a catastrophe like wildfires. Taking some knowledge gleaned from our captive swan evacuations during the hurricanes of 2004, we would suggest the following information be ascertained prior to an evacuation:
1. How many CAPTIVE swans are involved? More than a dozen, may not be feasible. Where are you going to place a large number of swans when you evacuate?
What means of transportation do you have for a large number of swans?
2. How much time do you have before mandatory evacuation procedures are implemented? If you choose to evacuate swans, BEGIN EARLY. Better to get them off of a lake/pond even a day early if a wildlife threat is imminent.
3. What is the size of the lake/pond? Can the swans be quickly evacuated to ensure that the animals and humans can get out of the evacuation zone safely and in a timely manner? If fire is imminent, within a mile and rapidly progressing and it is going to take an inordinate amount of time to get the swans off the lake, HUMAN safety should come first and as sad as it may seem, the swans will have to fend for themselves. THIS ISSUE CAN BE PREVENTED IF EVACUATION MEASURES ARE TAKEN EARLY.
4. Is the lake/pond large enough so that the birds can seek shelter on the opposite side of the lake/pond, be free from predators, and have ample food and water?
5. Depending on the size of the lake/pond, can the fire jump the lake to the other side thus preventing the birds from seeking shelter and running towards flames? Remember, if swans are pinioned, they cannot fly, so swimming and running are the birds' only means of transport and these modes may not be quick enough to seek shelter.
6. How big is the fire? How much smoke is going to be generated from the fire? Even if the fire cannot jump the lake/pond, the possibility of dense smoke throughout the day and night may not only prevent visibility from the swans seeking shelter, but smoke inhalation is a real danger. If possible, evacuation is a good idea to provide clean air for the swans.
7. Do you have a safe and reliable means of transportation to get the swans and yourself out of the area?
8. Do you have a safe and reliable evacuation point with water, food and shelter for yourself and the swans? Once evacuated, the swans will need supervision unless you have a zoo or other facility that can temporarily shelter the birds. BEFORE ANY CATASTROPHE, every pet owner/caretaker should contact a clean, competent, licensed, qualified shelter to see if their pets/animals can be housed in an emergency. It does no good to evacuate an animal, if the animal cannot be humanely or properly cared for several days. PLAN on SEVERAL DAYS for your time away from your property or the lake so that the swans will have an ample supply of food, shelter and water.
Now, if the conclusion is made to evacuate, the following should be helpful to keep the birds safe and healthy during their time away from the lake/pond.
1. The birds can be placed in large animal carriers (one bird per carrier), a large box (2 swans-mates only) share the box, or place sheets in the back of a van and transport the swans in a van. Boxes are better because they can keep the birds from walking around the vehicle which is another safety hazard. Animal carriers are good, but only for short distances because the birds need to stretch their necks, wings and legs.
2. Provide a driver and a caretaker. The caretaker rides with the swans. Provide water, bread and food. Swans love bread and even though it is not the greatest food source, it will usually force them to drink water which is a major necessity during the evacuation transportation.
3. Provide the caretaker with a squirt bottle to keep the swans semi-wet during the transportation. If the evacuation is going to be for a short distance, (less than 45 minutes), the swans will not need to be squirted.
Once they arrive to the evacuation point, they should be placed in a kiddie pool, sink, or hosed down with a water hose to keep them wet. Kiddie pools are great because the swans can feed from the pool (place their lettuce/layer pellets, corn and bread in the water and they will feed). You will need to change the water every 4-6 hours to allow the swans to get in the water and bathe. So, a clean source of water is also a must for bathing purposes.
4. If the swans do not use the kiddie pool for bathing, not to worry. They can realistically stay out of water (swimming) for about a week as long as they are frequently watered with a garden hose. Although this does not seem great for the swan, the alternative of being burned, injured or killed from flames and smoke is obviously much worse.
5. If shelter at a pet facility, zoo, or other such shelter is not feasible, a good friend (WE MEAN GOOD FRIEND!!!!!!!!!) with a patio (safe from predators), garage (free from gasoline and other chemicals), or a fenced backyard safe from domestic and wild animals will suffice to get the swans through a trying evacuation period. Garages, patios and backyards are easily cleaned with a garden hose and the birds can be watered at the same time.
Once the evacuation mandates are lifted and the area is deemed safe, the lake/pond and surrounding habitat should be carefully checked to ensure that no hazardous materials, predators, or other materials which might harm the swans remain in the lake or in the surrounding area. Only then, can the birds be safely placed back on their lake/pond.
We hope that this brief explanation will help anyone finding themselves in the unfortunate situation of a wildfire and in need of a swan evacuation.
We experienced the hurricanes in 2004 to be followed by a severe drought and wildfires throughout Florida. We know the many trials and tribulations that people are going through and trying to keep animals/pets safe is a major task.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all Californians affected by this natural disaster. The Regal Swan