Holding Out For Elvira's Return

COMMENT

September 05, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

Elvira, phone home.

The search for Elvira, one of a brood of four trumpling swans at Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi, has turned up nothing thus far. It has left officials of the Columbia Association bewildered, and prompted them to turn to the public for help.

Some clues:

* Like all the swans in Columbia, Elvira had her wings surgically altered so that she cannot fly.

* There is the possibility that she walked away from the lake; it appears Elvira was always somewhat of a loner.

* There is also the possibility that someone walked away with her.

This is, of course, not a major crime. Swan-napping doesn't come up often on the docket at the Howard County police headquarters.

But I, for one, feel somewhat saddened and disturbed by the possibility that Elvira was stolen.

Columbia's three lakes are one of the city's many assets, and one of its best. They were all created between 1966 and 1974.

And despite the fact they are man-made, they are as ecologically rich as the real thing.

In addition to bass and blue gill, the lakes are seasonal homes to migrating blue herons and mallard ducks.

But one of the most beautifully captivating species at the lakes are the swans.

With their huge white midsections and long, elegant necks, they glide seemingly without effort across the water, casting an equally elegant reflection as they go.

They are, in a sense, the pets we all share here. Children in particular learn to respect these noble creatures, often tossing them bread crumbs.

It is galling to think that someone would rob the community of Elvira.

In the early 1970s, muted swans were placed in Columbia's lakes in an attempt to reintroduce the waterfowl to the Chesapeake Bay region.

But the muted swans -- which got their name from the fact that they don't squawk -- tended to be aggressive and were as inclined to snap at a finger as to nibble a crust of bread.

Three years ago, the native American trumpling swans were introduced. They have proven more docile and friendly to humans. Sadly, that friendliness may have cost Elvira.

The lakes are not sanctuaries. Each has its own path system and are enjoyed by thousands year-round.

Still, the loss of Elvira makes me wonder about the wisdom of humans and animals attempting cohabitation in an urban setting.

A Columbia wildlife committee wants to turn a pond and other wetlands near Lake Elkhorn into a refuge for swans and other wildlife. What kind of protection such a refuge would receive is unclear but it might include prohibitions on fishing, dog-walking and other human activities.

Forbay Pond, as it is known, has apparently become quite an attraction for a host of waterfowl. It is already in a secluded spot, beyond the pathways that encircle Lake Elkhorn.

"We want to piggyback on the wetlands activity," said Richard Diener, a waterfowl committee member who lives near the pond. "We want to recognize it as a preserve and to protect the species and habitat. The area is ideal for nesting and raising young in a safe environment."

I agree.

The area is an ideal spot for a refuge. The question is how far should officials go to protect the pond.

Fishing is already prohibited in a part of Wilde Lake that serves as a refuge for swans.

The same could be done at Forbay Pond.

Still, something more is required to protect the area from debris, dogs and other human activities. Fencing the pond would probably invite vandalism. It would also ruin the spirit of Lake Elkhorn as a public park. Posting signs seems really the only option.

In light of the mishap involving Elvira, there should at least be a ban on fishing and dogs.

Beyond that, a sign explaining that the area is a sanctuary and reminding people that it as a place where very precious animals live is about all that can done.

Then, it is left to all of us to respect this unique setting and remember that we are only visitors and must act appropriately.

As for Elvira, I hope she finds her way home soon.

She is already missed.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howar County.

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