Iowa State University in search of a swan or two for Lake LaVerne after half of famous pair dies

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

If someone in the area has a swan they'd consider giving a new home to, it's possible that new home could be Iowa State University's Lake LaVerne.

Half of the famous pair of swans living on the lake, dubbed "Lancelot" and "Elaine," died two weeks ago.

Lancelot and Elaine have been the names of the swan pairs to live on the lake since being first introduced there in 1935. The names are a reference to lovers in Alfred Lord Tennyson's narrative poem "Idylls of the King" and were picked from a naming contest at the time, according to the university.

Both of the mute swans that had been living on the lake were female, so it's not clear which bird died from what's thought to be natural causes.

A swan floats alone on the water at Iowa State University's Lake LaVerne on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Ames, Iowa. The swan is the surviving member of a pair named "Lancelot" and "Elaine." One of the birds recently died of natural causes and the university is working to find one or more new swans for a pair.

Mute swans are a non-native species, so the pairs are nonbreeding by design.

The need to replace one or more of the swans is not new, but it's been a couple decades since the most recent pair was introduced in March 2003.

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The previous two male pairs of swans on the lake were removed after being too aggressive: in 1999, after wandering into traffic on Lincoln Way; and after a July 2002 incident in which one swan charged at a lawnmower and consequently needed surgery and physical therapy for a broken leg.

The injured swan made progress in its recovery but continued to limp, and university officials at the time thought the bird would be better off in a private setting.

The swans that had together been on the lake since 2003 were donated by a Webster City alumnus.

The bird left on the lake after the other's death will remain there while the university's Facilities Planning and Management department figures out what to do next.

A swan floats alone on the water at Iowa State University's Lake LaVerne on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in Ames, Iowa. The swan is the surviving member of a pair named "Lancelot" and "Elaine." One of the birds recently died of natural causes and the university is working to find one or more new swans for a pair.

Campus planner Chris Strawhacker said that because it's been so long since the last time new swans were introduced, "we're trying to go back through some notes and figure out how we went through this in the past."

"We haven't considered looking at zoos, but there are swan breeders, private businesses that raise swans for ponds and lakes," Strawhacker said. He added the private swan breeder route seems to be the direction they're headed, if no offers to donate a swan come in.

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The search will probably start locally, to make it easier to pick up a swan or have it delivered.

Whether to replace just one swan or to find a new home for the remaining one and introduce a completely new pair is another question. Strawhacker said that depends on whether the remaining swan would pair up well with a new companion or if it'd be best just to have a new pair that have already been together.

"We’re trying to understand that aspect at this moment, still," Strawhacker said.

Anyone who might be interested in donating a swan can contact Strawhacker at cstrawha@iastate.edu or 515-294-7071.

Swans Lancelot and Elaine meander around Lake LaVerne on the Iowa State University campus during a snow storm on Dec. 28, 2015, in Ames, Iowa.

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.