Dave Doyle

By Dave Doyle

Two stoic mute swans have won thousands of Facebook fans thanks to their soap opera-like, often tragic lives.

Famous faces George and Zelda lost all but two of the cygnets they produced last year to illness and harrowing accidents.

The determined pair had seven young in 2020, with their lives followed eagerly by hundreds who took their daily lockdown exercise in Cheltenham’s Pittville Park.

But just two of the brood lived to see the end of the year, with five succumbing to injury, ill luck or disease.

The first casualties were found tangled in netting on an artificial island, just weeks after they were hatched.

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One sibling suffered a neck wound, thought to have been caused by carelessly discarded fishing hooks or line, and died from an infection.

Another, named Sassy, was ringed and relocated to Evesham in Worcestershire – but she succumbed to the avian flu outbreak in December.

Fans mourned her loss online, posting that “she was beautiful and charmed everybody,” and hoping “we don’t lose to many of our gorgeous birds”.

Cyril was killed when he took an early flight from the lake and crashed into a tree, breaking his neck.

His Facebook followers posted, “Fly high over the rainbow Cyril” and that “he will be missed”.

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The proud parents in happier times during summer 2020, with two of their growing cygnets.

Their brother Tonto – who was relocated along with Sassy – is thought to be doing well, while Ranger has been spotted near Bristol, around 40 miles away.

Swans hatch up to ten eggs at a time, according to The Swan Sanctuary. They website says: “It is not uncommon for all of the cygnets to be lost to predators, nor is it uncommon for most of them to survive.”

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Their FAQ page adds: “It all depends on the location and the natural protection afforded them. As parents grow older they learn from the experience of previous years.”

Two surviving cygnets is an improvement for George and Zelda, who lost all but one of their offspring in 2019. But the parents’ bad luck does not end at breeding.

George was shot with a crossbow in 2017, became entangled in fishing wire in 2019 and had to have a fish hook removed from his skin last year.

Undeterred, the plucky pair have been spotted trying again this week, with videos of their courtship posted to the Pittville Swans & Friends Facebook page (with 2.6K followers).

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Swan-watchers wished the parents-to-be well, leaving comments like, “They love one another so much – it’s beautiful” and getting excited for the “impending patter of tiny flippers”.

While perhaps unlucky in parenthood, this committed couple are certainly setting goals in the relationship and social media following stakes.