Swan rescue. It’s what the Wapping Wildlife Rangers do. For some reason our entire Wapping Wildlife Rangers team was returning to Wapping from Poplar on the D3 bus when they spotted a swan trying to cross the road.
Editors note: There are no photos or video of these events, we had our hands full at the time.
Not just any road. But Butcher Row in Limehouse. Why did the swan want to cross the road? Who knows. But want to cross it did and was making hesitant attempts to step into the large volume of traffic.
Not a good idea. The Rangers were cringing as they imagined the swan’s likely fate.
As our Lead Ranger leapt – ok, stood – into action he asked the bus driver if he could open the door so they could rescue that swan please?
“Nurgeyrumbleblahfif,” was the reply. Which we translated as “Nah next stop.” Git.
At the next stop on The Highway all our Rangers piled off the bus and, as one, started scuttling back towards Butchers Row checking if any of them had a towel on their person.
Our Rangers have rescued (or assisted Swan Sanctuary personnel, see photo above) in several swan rescues and they knew that a towel was an essential piece of kit for grabbing swans with any degree of safety.
As the others checked their pockets and rucksacks the Lead Ranger was relieved to see that the swan had crossed Butcher Row safely (probably aided by the nice man next to him) and was now standing on the traffic island in front of the westbound Limehouse Link tunnel.
Fortunately the traffic lights were red.
Would the Wapping Wildlife Rangers save the swan? Would the swan tell the Rangers to sod off? Would the swan save itself? Find out in the next sentence! (And diagram!)
As usual there was a lot of traffic impatiently waiting for the green light to race off down The Highway including a very big truck. As the Lead Ranger approached the swan stepped into the road just as the lights changed!
Nooooooooo! Fortunately most people are nice and the one lane of traffic that did start to move did so slowly, allowing the swan to get into the middle of the road.
Right in front of the very big truck. And by big we mean BIG. One of those massive beasts that shift tons of earth from the West End out east.
Our Rangers had to act – and fast! Would the big truck squish the swan? Would the swan attack the truck?
Lead Ranger calculated that while the truck might squish a swan it was unlikely that it would squish a swan and a person, especially an experience Wildlife Ranger. Unfortunately Lead Ranger was out of uniform and was not even wearing his big Ranger hat. So he would have to work incognito.
And with that he stepped into the middle of The Highway and engaged with the swan.
Swans are big. Very big.
The swan was quite young, some of his (or her) brown down feathers showing through its otherwise pure white feathers.
Lead Ranger looked at the swan. The swan looked at the Ranger. Impasse.
The swan seemed to be carefully checking the Ranger to see if it was one of his parents. It did not take long for swannie to decide the Ranger bore no resemblance to a swan whatsoever.
Now ‘cos we normally look down on a swan from land as it swans along on the water they do not look that big. But our experienced Wildlife Rangers know that when you stand next to an upright swan they are pretty big. With wings outstretched (never a good sign) they are huge. Our Lead Ranger is over six foot tall and the swan’s head was not that much below his eye level.
Time was passing. Engines revved. Action was needed and fast!
Don’t try this at home
The trick when dealing with wild animals is to appear confident but not to present a threat. Well, swans anyway. Don’t think this works on snakes or elephants though.
As swannie had a bit of a wing flap our Ranger stood between the swan and the traffic and, with arms outstretched, tried to shepherd it (the swan, not the traffic) towards the safety of the pavement.
“Nah,” thought the swan. You could just tell. Lead Ranger was now between the big truck which had not moved (thanks driver!) and our feathered friend.
The Highway was empty apart from the eastbound traffic. Time seemed to stand still.
And with a honk and a flip flop of his huge webbed feet the swan started off towards Wapping.
Within seconds the swan had gained speed and was flapping its wings hard.
And then – lift off! Putting us earth-bound mammals to shame the swan made full use of the empty Highway and performed an immaculate take off and soared into the sky.
Mission accomplished. By this time the lights had cycled back through to red again so our Ranger was safe(ish).
As he stepped back onto the pavement a police officer driving one of those big BMW four-wheel drive patrol vehicles the MPS Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19) use gave him a thumbs up.
“Why is it always us who finds lost swans?” asked the Lead Ranger and the police officer laughed.
Waiting for the next D3 the Wapping Wildlife Rangers made use of the time for a routine post-operational debrief.
During this a more junior Ranger made a very good point. What would be the most useful piece of kit for a swan rescue if no towel was handy? A ballistic shield of course. Stops bullets, should stop swan pecks.
What else would be handy? Body armour. First-aid kit. Goggles.
Who carries all this stuff on every patrol? MPS Specialist Firearms Command (SCO19) units.
And who sat in their vehicle watching Wapping Wildlife Rangers deal with a swan without any tactical support? You guessed it.
SCO19 may deal with marauding terrorists without breaking sweat but when it comes to swans it seems to be a very different story. Pah!