Beloved black swan Kevin loses second nesting mate in dog attack

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Key points

  • A mating pair of wild native black swans at Edwardes Lake Park in Reservoir in Melbourne’s north were well-known to locals at ‘Kevin and Mabel’
  • The vast majority of the 46 acre park requires dogs to be on leash, and there is a newly installed off-leash dog area
  • The female swan Mabel was mauled by an off-leash dog in an on-leash area on Friday afternoon and died
  • It’s the fourth swan death at the reserve in three years after two of Mabel’s cygnets were killed last year by a pet dog
  • Residents and environmentalists are calling for Darebin Council to crackdown on leash enforcement in the park 

Kevin – Reservoir’s resident male black swan – is a widower once more.

A fatal dog attack on Kevin’s female swan partner – known to locals as Mabel – at Edwardes Lake Park in Reservoir in Melbourne’s north on Friday has prompted calls for a crackdown on dog owners who breach the parkland’s leash rules.

Swans Kevin and Mabel before Mabel’s death. Mabel arrived in November 2020 after the death of Kevin’s first mate.Credit: Friends of Edwardes Lake

Kevin, a wild swan that has lived at the reserve since 2017, had already lost a female mate in October 2020 when she was found dead after a dog attack.

Black swans are usually monogamous and mate for life, so locals were overjoyed when Mabel appeared in the park soon after the death and became Kevin’s new nesting mate.

Mabel’s body after the dog attack.Credit: Friends of Edwardes Lake

The pair were tagged as part of a Melbourne University swan study and had multiple clutches of cygnet chicks. But in October last year, two of their seven-week-old chicks were killed by a dog that was leashed but escaped its owner.

Then on Friday afternoon, there was yet another killing.

“I got a call on Friday that a swan had been attacked, and I just knew it would be Mabel,” says Kate Jost, a wildlife rescuer and president of the environmental volunteer group Friends of Edwardes Lake.

“I got down there pretty quickly within a few minutes of being called and when I got here she was alone on the grass and she was almost gone. I just sat with her until she was gone.”

Jost, who spoke to the witnesses who reported the attack to Wildlife Victoria, said an off-leash black “small to medium stocky” dog bit the swan until its owner pulled it away – but the owner lost control again and the dog attacked Mabel a second time.

“We don’t know the identity of the person,” Jost said.

Mabel with a previous clutch of cygnets at the lake she hatched with Kevin.Credit: Friends of Edwardes Lake Park

“The dog owner had left and so had the witnesses who called Wildlife Victoria by the time I arrived.”

Wildlife Victoria confirmed to The Age that a call was received just before 1pm on Friday of a dog attack on a swan at the park.

There has been an outpouring of grief for Mabel on local Facebook pages and at least 50 people attended a small burial ceremony on Saturday.

Jost, who hosted the ceremony, said she was devastated.

“I cannot tell you the weight of finding her like that – watching her die.”

“I used to see her every day,” she said. “I cannot tell you the weight of finding her like that – watching her die.”

Now, grief has turned to indignation.

On Monday, Jost will present a petition to Darebin Council urging enforcement be beefed to across the park’s on-leash area – the bulk of the park. The petition has attracted 1600 signatures over four days.

She also submitted a 5000-signature petition to the council after the cygnet deaths in October 2022, calling on the council to erect signs warning pet owners of the fines for off-leash dogs and introducing regular patrols.

But Jost said the measures implemented were short-lived: temporary signs ended up vandalised in the lake within days and group members claimed they only saw two 15-minute patrols by officers who did not leave their cars.

“As a community we have failed if we can’t protect two swans from the actions of irresponsible dog owners. We’re not asking for a new law – it’s the existing laws that need to be enforced,” she said.

“I can’t help but wonder that if we were heard in October 2022 after the cygnets died whether Mabel would still be alive.”

Darebin councillor Gaetano Greco, who represents the ward that covers Edwardes Lake Park, pointed to the $275,000 permanent, fenced off-leash dog park in the north-west corner of the 46-acre park that was completed last year.

“Speaking personally, I’m a dog owner myself and we all love our pets …[but] there’s really no reason for people to have their dog off-leash while they’re walking around there,” he said.

“It’s not just a question of the swans – it also becomes an issue of protecting other people’s dogs and young children.”

A spokeswoman for Darebin Council said staff were was saddened by Mabel’s death.

“We acknowledge the distressing nature of this event, and we are committed to collaborating with the group to improve enforcement measures and signage in the area,” she said noting there were already “numerous” signs alerting people that it is an on-lead park.

“Officers have agreed to the installation of temporary signage alerting park users to increased patrols … and also reiterating that fines may apply (where applicable).”

Meanwhile, Jost is concerned for Kevin – the sole remaining black swan in the park.

“I don’t want to find him in the same way,” Jost said.

If you have information about the swan attack please contact Darebin Council on (03) 8470 8888. If you find injured wildlife please contact Wildlife Victoria on (03) 8400 7300.

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