Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

A dozen members of the Clayton State University community gathered on the banks of Swan Lake to see the arrival of "royalty" on Tuesday afternoon.

Two new Royal Mute Swans, both females, were added to the university's water fowl community. That community already included one female Polish Mute Swan, named Belle.

The old guard, and the new arrivals did not exactly hit it off right away. At first, the new swans swam away from Belle as she approached. Later, she chased the newbies around a portion of the lake.

Paul Bailey, the university's director of media and printing services, said it is going to take some time for Belle and the new swans to get used to each other.

Bailey arranged the purchase of the new swans, and university employees often point to him as Clayton State's unofficial swan guru. "These two swans need time to get used to the lake, and they need time to get familiar being around Belle, and she needs time to become familiar with them," Bailey said.

He said the new swans, which cost $650 each, came from Groen's Wildlife Services, in Cedar Lake, Ind. He said one of the swans was purchased with a financial donation from a Clayton State employee, and the other was purchased with money from the Clayton State University Foundation's "Swan Fund."

He said the new swans were purchased to be companions for Belle. He said Belle's mate, Rhett II, died from unknown causes last month. He said he decided to get female swans, instead of a male swan, because the university is going in a different direction with its swans from now on.

In the past, the university has had a male swan and a female swan, and several attempts have been made to establish a large extended family of swans. It has never been successful, because of the high number of baby swans, called cygnets, who have died while they were young.

"The stories about the cygnets are unfortunately true, that they have almost never survived because the turtles in the lake, or other animals, have eaten them," Bailey said. "This environment has not been hospitable to them, so we're not going to try that anymore."

Rhett II was one of only two cygnets to grow into adulthood. The other one, whose wings were never clipped, disappeared a couple of years ago.

Swans have been a fixture on Clayton State's Morrow campus since 1995, said university spokesman, John Shiffert. In the past, Clayton State's swans have been named after "Gone With the Wind" characters, including Rhett I, Rhett II, Scarlett, Melanie, Ashley, Bonnie, and Belle.

"I don't think there is any doubt they are a tradition here," Shiffert said. "We've even used them in some of our marketing materials for the university."

One tradition surrounding the swans is changing, however, with the newest arrivals. For the first time since 1995, at least one of the named swans will not share a moniker with a "Gone With the Wind" character. One of the new swans, a year and a half old, is named "Elizabeth," after Elizabeth Taylor, the assistant to the university's graduate dean. Taylor had a swan named after her because she made a $650 contribution to buy it, Bailey said.

The other new swan, two-and-a-half years old, has not been named. Bailey said it was bought with money from the Clayton State University Foundation's "Swan Fund," which was set up to take care the swans at the university. He added that the university is still looking for someone to make a $650 contribution to the fund to offset the purchase. He said the unnamed swan will be named, however, after whoever makes that contribution.

When asked why she made a contribution to purchase a swan, Taylor said it was because she and her fiance, Patrick Coleman, enjoy taking walks by Swan Lake and watching the swans swim in it. When Rhett II died, she said, it was "kinda like losing a member of your family" and she and her fiance wanted to do something to help the university community overcome the male swan's death.

"We wanted to see what we could do to keep the tradition alive here at Clayton State," Taylor said.