It seems every few months another animal attack makes headlines, whether it’s an animal who turns on its longtime caretaker or a wild animal who terrorizes a community. Today, the animal offender is perhaps the most unlikely suspect: a swan.
Swans are known for their serene demeanor and their monogamy, characteristics which have made them symbols of peace and contentment. However, they’re also territorial to the point of aggression, a trait many people probably don’t realize, a trait that claimed the life of even a very experienced swan handler, 37-year-old Anthony Hensley. Hensley died Sunday morning after being attacked by a swan and drowning in a pond at an Illinois condominium complex. Police aren’t sure exactly how the attack occurred, but believe Hensley either got too close to one of the swans or its nesting area as he was kayaking across the pond to check on the swans. Hensley, who worked for a company that used swans to deter geese, fell out of the kayak, and drowned after the swan, one of the larger ones in the pond, continued to attack him as he tried to swim to shore.
Hensley’s family said they can’t understand why he couldn’t fend off the swan, but speculated he did not fight back as hard as he could out of fear of hurting the swan. Hensley was married and had two young children.
The story is tragic enough by itself, but it raises already troubling questions about the relationship between humans and animals. Thanks to urban sprawl, the cities and suburbs are moving further and further into formerly rural and undeveloped areas, displacing much of the native wildlife. Sometimes, the native species die because they no longer have a place to live, and other times they continue to inhabit the areas, with deadly consequences for both sides. I live in Oklahoma, where it’s common to hear stories of mountain lions terrorizing communities on the outskirts of town, killing pets and livestock. Other states are plagued by coyote attacks and even bear sightings. Even a concern for animals can lead to injury and death, as in the multiple accounts of animals at sanctuaries who have suddenly turned violent, killing or maiming their caregivers.
Is it possible for humans and animals, especially undomesticated animals, to live together? Or by moving into their territories, or even incorporating them into ours (as in the case of man-made ponds stocked with birds like ducks or swans) are we only setting up a situation that puts both humans and nature in jeopardy? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.