There were two Trumpeter Swans at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo until recently. Now there are three.
Swanson and Bella, as the swans are known to zoo staff, hatched a baby swan – or cygnet – on July 7. The family is easily distinguished from the Mute Swans that also hang out at the zoo, thanks to their distinctive vocalizing and since the baby is much smaller and covered in a gray, downy coat.
The adults are quite protective of the little swan, Zoo Director Nicole Benz said. Always territorial, they used to be less aggressive with staff, who could easily approach them with food. Nowadays, reaching across the fence would not be advised.
Trumpeter Swans are fairly common today, but were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 20th century.
“They have had a pretty rough conservation history,” Benz said. In the 1970s, Great Bend’s zoo helped bring them back from extinction.
A story in the Dec. 20, 1968, issue of the Great Bend Daily Tribune noted that Brit Spaugh Park Superintendent Jerry Tillery had photographed Trumpeter Swans at the park, to accompany a story published by the American Forestry Association. The AFA article stated there were only 70 Trumpeters left in 1930.
According to the Tribune, the Great Bend Trumpeters achieved national publicity in 1965 when cygnets were hatched and lived. It was one of the first times this had occurred to Trumpeters in captivity. More followed, and Great Bend swans were later placed at wildlife refuges throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The zoo’s swans are still receiving national publicity.
One of the two – Benz suspects it was Swanson – got national attention last year when a YouTube video taken at the zoo went viral. It showed a man attempting to take a selfie, and being nipped by a swan.
The Trumpeter Swans belong to the zoo, while the Mute Swans belong to the City of Great Bend. The Mute Swans were originally placed at Veterans Memorial Lake but have chosen to stay on a pond at the zoo, Benz said.
Swanson, the male Trumpeter, came to Great Bend via the Sedgwick County Zoo after he hatched in June of 2010. Bella’s history is unknown. Prior to 2010, Brit Spaugh Zoo’s recording keeping wasn’t as meticulous as it is today, but staff believe she is about 10 years old.
As for the baby, it will eventually go to another zoo in Kansas.