OKC Zoo Saddened to Announce the Death of Geriatric Trumpeter Swan, Sam

The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is saddened to announce the death of beloved trumpeter swan, Sam, who passed last week due to age-related ailments. While his exact age is unknown, Sam’s caretakers believe he lived to be in his mid-twenties.

Over the last two years, Sam was receiving supportive care, including cold laser therapy, for chronic arthritis in his legs. Last week, caretakers noticed that Sam was not utilizing his right leg normally. This observation led to a physical exam from the Zoo’s veterinary team that afternoon, and Sam was prescribed pain medication in hopes that his condition would improve overnight. The following morning, Sam continued to demonstrate lameness in his right leg, and the difficult decision was made to humanely euthanize.

Members of the OKC Zoo’s animal family since 2017, Sam and his mate, Olivia, shared their habitat with the Zoo’s white-tailed deer herd in the Oklahoma Trails habitat. Greeting his caretakers with a trumpet call every morning, Sam was incredibly special member of the Zoo family. His cooperative nature made it easy to care for him throughout his treatment, and his twenty-plus year bond with Olivia was unmistakably strong. Trumpeter swans are monogamous.

Native to the United States and Canada, trumpeter swan populations were once bountiful, but in the 1930s they were hunted to near extinction. Through conservation efforts, trumpeter swans have been brought back from the brink of extinction, however, it is vital that conservation efforts continue until populations have returned to stable levels.

Sam contributed significantly to the conservation of his species, with three of his offspring being released in the wild to restore populations. Olivia and Sam raised 20 cygnets together – two of which were born at the OKC Zoo. In an effort to strengthen the trumpeter swan population, six of Sam and Olivia’s eggs were placed in the nest of a pair of wild, infertile trumpeter swans. The wild pair hatched all six eggs and raised them successfully, a wonderful win for the species. 

The OKC Zoo has committed itself to the conservation of trumpeter swans in the wild through its involvement in a critical reintroduction program, in collaboration with the Trumpeter Swan Society, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other zoos, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. 

In May 2019, hoofstock caretaker, Lisbeth Pisias, was selected to transport one of Sam and Olivia’s offspring, a one-year-old male trumpeter swan (cygnet), born and raised at the OKC Zoo, to facilitate his release into the wild. Animal caretakers arrived from around the country to release a total of 20 cygnets into three different lakes and wetland habitats in Iowa. The OKC Zoo’s male cygnet was released on Lake Icaria with nine other cygnets.

Trumpeter swans migrate South in small family groups to wintering grounds in the central United States, including open water sites along the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Missouri and west to Oklahoma. In late March and early April, the swans return North to their nesting marshes.

Trumpeter swans live an average of 20 years in the wild and are classified as the largest waterfowl birds in the United States – weighing up to 32 pounds with a wing span of up to 10 feet.

The OKC Zoo remains home to trumpeter swan, Olivia. Guests can visit her in the Zoo’s front waterfowl pond, located near the entry plaza, where she is currently spending time with other bird species.

- Tracey Dolphin Drees, curator of hoofstock

Photo Credit – Deanthe Evans

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