Ottawa's royal swans to be set free

Ottawa's royal swans will be set free again next spring, city officials have decided. The swans were quarantined in pens this summer as a protection against avian flu.

Ottawa's royal swanswill be set free next spring, city officials have decided.

Thecity's 12 mute swans, which usually spend the summerin the waters ofthe Rideau River, were quarantined in pens this year becausecity officialswere afraid theswans might contract avian flu from wild birds.

But next spring, theswanswill either be released in Ottawa orsent to another city, said city councillor Rick Chiarelli, who has been campaigning for the swans' release.

Ottawa's royal swans are descendants of birds given to the city as a gift by Queen Elizabeth in honour of Canada's 100th birthday.

The decision to keep the birds penned year-round prompted an outcry from the Ottawa Royal Swan Coalition, made up of several animaladvocacy groups such as Wildlife Ontario. The coalition refers to the holding facility as "Swantanamo Bay,"alludingtothe U.S.'s Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

The swans typically spend their winters in the facility on Leitrim Road, where eachpairhas itsown indoor resting area, swimming pool and outdoor pen, says a city website.

But members of the coalition have said the pens are too cramped.

Chiarelli, who said he has toured the facility unofficially, agreedit needs to be improved.

"Compared to the photos I have of a number of other places where they house swans and other migratory birds, it certainly didn't measure up," he said.

Susan Jones, the city's chief of bylaw services, said yesterday the city plans to replace the facility by 2009. She estimated that could cost up to half a million dollars.

Since 1996, the city's swan program has been funded by the technology company Cognos Inc.

Quarantine to be reconsidered

Chiarelli said over the winter, city staff will review whether science supports the idea that the birds will be at risk of contracting avian flu if they are released.

"I think once they do that, I'm pretty confident that the likely result is that the birds will be released," he said.

"Ottawa continues to be the only place on the face of planet Earth that has taken this approach to the bird flu, and is keeping its swans in despite the fact that there isn't a single case of the disease in all of North America," he said.

In the past year, bird flu caused by the H5 influenza virus was diagnosed in wild and domestic ducks in B.C. and a domestic gosling in P.E.I., but none of the cases were caused by the most dangerous strain of the virus.

In June, the Public Heath Agency of Canada issued a statement in response to the city of Ottawa's swan quarantine, saying the action was not the result of its guidelines, which do not apply to domestic birds.