UPDATE: The City of Orlando has issued the following statement:
“We are thankful to the Orlando Police Department and the public on their efforts in helping to identify the individual who took the cygnets. We are happy for the safe return of the cygnets as they are iconic and important part of Lake Eola Park. City staff has them in a secured location and will monitor their condition as they will be receiving a wellness check-up.”
Video that shows a man stealing two cygnets (baby swans) from their nest at Lake Eola this past Mother’s Day has led to his capture by local law enforcement over the weekend.
Video taken during the incident showed a man shielding himself with a cooler from the attacks of distressed adult swans while he scooped up some recently hatched chicks, before plopping them into said cooler for transportation. The video can be seen below, care of the Orlando Police Department.
The man, now identified by OPD as Richard Newell Harger, told onlookers that he worked for Lake Eola Park and that he was taking the cygnets away to protect them. He was also wearing a red shirt that is similar to the ones worn by park volunteers that occasionally interact with the swans.
At the time of this post, the two cygnets had been located and recovered by OPD detectives and will be taken care of until the City decides on the proper way to reintroduce them safely to the parents. Harger told the police on record that he had never taken swans from Lake Eola before and that he took the two cygnets to protect them from predators and apologized to law enforcement.
According to the Orlando Police Department, Harger has been charged with Grand Theft 3rd Degree, which is a felony punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in Florida State Prison and a $5,000 fine. In addition to an arrest warrant, Harger has now been trespassed from all City of Orlando parks as a result of OPD’s investigation.
City Commissioner Patty Sheehan told Bungalower that the City does not remove swans from their nests and prefers to leave them in the care of their parents. The decision to do so is also based on the fact that it is more difficult to reintroduce adult swans to the population at the lake than it is to have swans that are reared there on site. Volunteers and swan docents gather each November to herd the swans for their annual checkup but that’s generally the extent to which humans interact with the birds.
Six cygnets were stolen from Lake Eola in April 2016 when they were just one day old. Swans, according to an expert cited in the police report, are worth anywhere from $5,000 for two cygnets, $6,000 for two yearlings, and $8,500 for two adults.