Nationwide Swanhunt Fans Alarmed as World-Famous Petra Disappears

These are anxious days in the German city of Münster, where Petra, the famous swan that fell in love with a swan-shaped pedal boat, has gone missing. Her fans have distributed leaflets appealing for help and have been inundated with reports of possible sightings.

Petra the black swan who gained nationwide fame by falling in love with a large swan-shaped pedal boat has gone missing from her lake in the western German city of Münster, and her worried fans have asked the public to help find her.

The "Friends of Black Petra" society, which has 58 dues-paying members -- including one in Chile -- has distributed some 150 "Have you seen this swan" posters and leaflets throughout Münster.

The tame swan is so well known throughout Germany after her bittersweet romance with the plastic boat that the search has attracted nationwide media coverage. She disappeared without trace three weeks ago, sparking fears she may have frozen to death or been eaten by a fox.

"We got 40 to 50 calls yesterday and it looks as if she may have found a new home in a lake 100 kilometers from here," Reinhold Wiens, a spokesman for the group, told SPIEGEL ONLINE shortly after being interviewed by the ZDF television network.

"A number of callers said they had spotted a black swan who had been seeking contact with people," Wiens continued. "If it turns out to be Petra it will be a huge relief. We were worried because she was probably hand-reared and we don't think she's experienced enough to survive on her own, especially in the cold weather we've had."

Petra first attracted attention when she appeared in Münster's Aasee lake in May 2006 and made friends with the white swan boat, faithfully following it around the lake and sheltering next to it. She formed such a close bond that the owner of the boat agreed not to lock it away from her for two consecutive winters, allowing the two to remain together.

Wiens said he and veterinarian Rita Thieme, who knows Petra better than anyone, plan to travel to the town of Xanten on Saturday to try and identify the friendly black swan spotted in lakeland near there.

Petra's love affair with the pedal boat ended last spring when she made friends with other swans on the Aasee lake in Münster.

Wiens said the "Friends of Black Petra" society was founded on October 1 last year. Each member pays an annual contribution of €12 to pay for food for Petra. The society also funded the construction of a special wooden hut for her comfort.

"It doesn't have central heating but it does have insulation and we got expert advice to ensure it was suitable accommodation for her. She used it a few times," said Wiens. "Our society doesn't meet regularly but we did get together to celebrate the unveiling of Petra's hut."

Wiens said the Friends of Black Petra don't plan to erect another hut for her in Xanten, if she has indeed moved there. "In any case, she may well return here in the summer," he added, with an unmistakeable hint of hope in his voice.



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