Exposing the Big Game

By Brandon Keim


A mute swan in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Image: Brandon Keim/Wired

In the menagerie of human mythology, mute swans occupy a special place. Across millennia they’ve symbolized transformation and devotion, light and beauty. Now a plan to eradicate the birds from New York has made them symbols of something else: a bitter and very modern environmental controversy.

The debate swirls around a host of prickly questions. Are mute swans rapacious destroyers of wetlands, or unfairly demonized because they’re not native to this area? Are some species in a given place more valuable than others, and why? Which deserves more protection, the animals that inhabit our landscapes, or the ones that might thrive in their absence? The answers depend on whom you ask.

“Mute swans always attract controversy, and tend to polarize people. And, as with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle,” said waterfowl researcher Chris Elphick of the University of Connecticut. “The real…

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