Elliott’s swan song

Beloved bird found floating, decapitated in Johnston pond


Some friends called him Elliott.

He initially survived an archer’s illicit arrow attack and pond neighbors hoped for his recovery. His young family depended on him.

The arrow was removed by a heart-sick friend — a conscientious neighbor who pulled the black shaft with blue and white fletching from the swan’s pure white feathers. There didn’t seem to be any blood. The community hoped for the best.

However, the prognosis was ultimately as grim as it gets. Last week, Elliott’s friends found him floating, lifeless and headless.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) confirmed a Johnston resident had reported the death of the Oak Swamp Pond swan, and the condition in which it was found.

Online commenters have alleged extreme animal cruelty, suggesting the bird was potentially killed and desecrated by an animal-hating local. The swan was already the victim of one attack. Did the archer return with a vengeance?

The swan had a partner and the pair recently had cygnets (baby swans). Johnston resident Torrie Aceto shared photos of the swan family swimming around Oak Swamp Pond during happier days.

“That lake is their home,” Aceto said Tuesday. “They have been there for 7-plus years and do not bother anyone. They float around minding their business. We’ve never had an issue with them being harmed until now.”

Now the swan family’s without its patriarch.

“Last Friday, DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement received a report from a resident who lives on the Oak Swamp Reservoir that the swan previously shot by an arrow last month was observed dead floating in the pond without its head,” according to Evan LaCross, Programming Services Officer and Public Affairs for Rhode Island DEM. “Based on the information from the caller, DEM believes the swan most likely died from an infection and the missing head is likely a result of natural predation.”

Sean Carpenter lives nearby. He said he knew the couple well.

On Wednesday, April 24, he reported the injured animal to the state’s DEM, and Rhode Island Environmental Police were sent to the scene to search for the injured swan.

LaCross confirmed DEM had received Carpenter’s report.

“Although there is no open season on mute swans in Rhode Island, we would need a witness statement in order to charge for hunting a non-game species,” LaCross said on April 24. “The unlawful killing of a swan can result in a misdemeanor charge which is punishable by a fine of up to $500, up to 90 days in prison, or both.”

Carpenter frequently walks his dog along the water. He felt like the large majestic avian was a friend; a living, breathing landmark.

“The swans have been living on the pond for (at least) the past 3-4 years and even spend the winter,” Carpenter said. “They nest in a swampy cove in the back of the pond that’s behind my house.”

Carpenter visited the swans practically every day.

“The female sits on the nest and the male wanders the pond — chasing geese,” he said. “So he goes all over the pond.”

Then Carpenter spotted the arrow poking out the swan’s back.

“He … didn’t seem in distress,” the bird-watcher recalled. “As you could see it was sticking out of his side. He was eating like normal but occasionally had his head down so not sure if he was getting at it.”

By the end of the day, the swan was swimming near the pond center.

Last month, LaCross had provided an update on the wounded swan’s condition.

“A resident who lives on the pond removed the arrow from the swan before an Environmental Police Officer from DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement arrived this morning,” LaCross wrote. “Thankfully, it appeared to be a non-fatal superficial wound that the swan should be able to recover from on its own.”

DEM and Environmental Police urged witnesses to come forward.

Aceto said DEM should be held responsible for not investigating the incident fully, prior to the discovery of Elliott’s decapitated corpse. “It is not legal to hunt or harm them,” she said Tuesday.

Members of the public who may have information regarding the swan’s shooting and/or subsequent death should call DEM Division of Law Enforcement’s 24-hour dispatch at 401-222-3070.

“Someone needs to put a stop to this,” Aceto urged. “If it’s someone’s kid the parents need to step up; if it’s an adult, they know better and the harm of a swan should result in arrest and a fine.”

Elliot, swan


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