“Tell me,” I asked Nikos Panagiotopoulos, head of the Western Macedonian wildlife care station, “have you ever seen anything like this?”
“No, never,” he immediately replied, and it was clear that he was asking himself the same question. For a few seconds neither of us spoke, a small tribute to a great cinematic romance with an inglorious ending. For the feathered love of two swans.
This story unfolded like a fairy tale when I was in Gianning a few days ago. On the river Pamvotis, the swans seemed to be dancing. They came and went from Mavili Square to Kira Frosini, which looks like a podium between a gray lake and the sky. But one of them was swimming alone.
Sometimes he swam up to the rest of the flock, sometimes separated. Sometimes he would shorten his stay on the shore, but unlike others, he never rushed for the delicacies that people offered. He was the only one to wear an insignia collar around his slender neck. “Yes, that’s him, the sad swan from Kastoria,” they told me when I asked.
Why is he sad? And what is he doing in Giannin? I needed to know more.
The person who knows history best of all is Nikos Panagiotopoulos. According to him, the swan arrived from Crete, where he lived in a zoo in Heraklion. After a stay at the Athens Center for the Care of Sick Animals and Birds to cope with health problems caused by a long illness, he was transferred to Lake Kastoria in the spring of 2021. A few months later, a female swan, which was found in a lake near Lamia, set off along the same route, first to Athens and then to Kastoria. Experts believed that for both birds, Swan Lake, as the lake in Kastoria is called, would mark a new beginning.
But, according to Nikos, a flock of swans in Kastoria did not greet them very warmly. “It was difficult for them to join the flock, so in order not to be alone, they got to know each other, and somehow a great love arose. They even left the place where swans often visit, and went 2 km to the side where built their own nest.” This couple became famous in Kastoria, one swan kept an eye on the other, they did everything together.
They lived in love for several months, until a dramatic incident occurred in February 22. When they were on land, as they usually did because they were familiar with people, a pack of stray dogs attacked the birds and bit the female swan. “I was alerted by bystanders and I was there within minutes,” says Panagiotopoulos. “I saw a male with outstretched wings circling around the female, protecting her from the dogs.”
He immediately grabbed the wounded swan to take it to the first aid station. “As I approached, I found that the second swan followed us. He came to the infirmary and sat down there. At some point I took him out, but he returned and sat down near the Care Center (coincidentally located on Κύκνων (Swan Street) “). Then I put him in an observation room to provide better care. We saw incredible things happen, like the male feeding his female.”
He tried to protect his partner from dogs, but he failed.
But unfortunately, swan died from his injuries. “I had to remove the male to pick up the dead female, but he sat next to her and stroked her, as if to say: wake up, get up. In the end I managed to get him aside. I even moved him to the opposite shore of the lake, for 15 km so we could have time to bury his girlfriend but by the time I got back to the station he was there again As soon as he saw me he started screaming I ended up shutting him down and taking another swan. a few days after that, the swan did not leave the station. He remained there, waiting for his mate and mourning her. He stopped eating, stopped accepting any help. His grief was complete and absolute. Something had to be done, something drastic. We were afraid we’ll lose him too. So we thought of Jannin.”
So the mourning swan from Kastoria on February 27, 22 ended up in the waters of Lake Giannina, where he was brought in an attempt to regain his will to live. But even there, the local flock did not meet the swan with open arms. “Swans also have a hierarchy,” explains volunteer Kostas Bestas from the area. “And in Giannina, the swan from Kastoria was recognized as the lowest in the local hierarchy. The flock drove him away.” Of course, he wasn’t in the mood for mating either, so for many weeks he swam alone, a sad lonely swan.
Everyone knew that recovering from psychological trauma would not be easy. Swans mate only once, choose a mate and go through life with her. “The only chance for recovery is to find a young female sometime later, because old females don’t mate. For now, he’s trying to acclimate.” A team of volunteers follows him and keeps a record of his acclimatization.
“To love, to fall in love, is not the privilege of humans. This story has a sad ending, but it allows us to understand a lot about the emotions of animals,” says Nikos Panagiotopoulos, who often travels to Ioannina to follow the evolution of the swan. – What should guide us. People kill their comrades, swans sacrifice themselves for their comrades.”