Although celebrated for their regal appeal, according to experts New York's mute swans pose a threat to the local biodiversity. Image: e_monk

The graceful mute swan, in lore long associated with romance and fidelity, a symbol of serenity and peace, might not meet a fairytale ending in New York.

The state is planning to eliminate the entire population of wild mute swans by 2025, which its Department of Environmental Conservation calls an aggressive, invasive species and a danger to people and native wildlife populations.

But protests are mounting to block the plan, which would reportedly involve tactics such as shooting the birds and puncturing their eggs.

"It's a ludicrous plan," said David Karopkin, founder and director of GooseWatch NYC, a wildlife advocacy group that believes the state's concerns are overblown.

Most of New York's 2,200 mute swans – both wild and in captivity – are found in highly populated areas, in and around the city and its northern suburbs in the Hudson Valley.

"When people live close to each other, conflicts are inevitable, but we don't kill each other off. But when people live next to animals and conflicts are inevitable, we respond with lethal methods," Karopkin said.

Although the swans are known to be territorial, especially when protecting their eggs or their young, there have been no recorded attacks on humans in New York, Karopkin said.

“I think people have a sort of a romantic connection with swans … But they need to be managed responsibly.”

Like the population control plans for mute swans already enacted in Michigan, Maryland and Delaware, the New York proposal targets only birds in the wild, not the ones on private lands or in city parks.

Originally brought in from Europe in the late 1800s to add flair to American estates, mute swans are now consuming large amounts of aquatic vegetation needed by native waterfowl and contaminating the water with their feces, which can contain the bacteria E. coli, state wildlife experts said.

25 02 2014 Swans In NYC
A pair of swans in Inwood Hill Park, NYC. Most of the state's 2,200 mute swans are found in highly populated areas, in and around New York City and its northern suburbs in the Hudson Valley. Image: Steve Guttman, Flickr

"With mute swans, there is considerable concern about destruction to native habitat by this non-native species," said wildlife expert Dr. Paul Curtis, who works in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University.

The mute swan's steadily increasing population in New York over several decades has also put a strain on native species like the black tern, an endangered wetlands bird that has now disappeared where the swans have colonised, he said.

"I think people have a sort of a romantic connection with swans ... But they need to be managed responsibly," Curtis said.

On the other side of the debate, GooseWatch NYC has reportedly collected 20,000 signatures on an online petition to scrap the proposal. State Senator Tony Avella of Queens has introduced a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on any elimination efforts.

"I was horrified to learn that our state wildlife agency would make such an extreme, unfounded proposal, and do not believe that the DEC has provided evidence to justify the elimination of these beautiful swans," Avella said.

Source: Victoria Cavaliere/Reuters
Top header image: LI Refugee