Friday, May 28, 2021

Donna the Duck: 40th Anniversary

40 years ago in May of 1981, Paradise Palms and the Sahara Nevada Country Club (present day Las Vegas National) became the center of a national news media frenzy, when it was discovered that a mallard, affectionally named Donna, had been shot with a 3-foot target arrow through her chest. The timing of this incident happened to fall during a relatively slow news period, at a time when the country was still reeling from the attempted assassination of the President two months earlier. A feel good story was much needed, and Donna filled that role. 

Donna fell on the media's radar in May 1981, but neighborhood reports revealed that she had been living with an arrow lodged in her chest for almost a month. Volunteers with the Nevada Human Society began attempts to capture Donna, so that the arrow could safely be removed. While not causing her physical pain, the arrow had impacted her ability to dive down underwater for food, which began causing her to drop weight. Donna was also a mother, and along with her mate Dapper Dan, her ability to care for her ducklings was impacted. 

As rescue efforts ramped up, so did Donna's elusiveness. Initially, residents and volunteers attempted to capture Donna by hand. She had a knack for fleeing at the last second. A specialty net was made, one that was wide enough, and with a long pole, that would allow rescuers to capture her without getting too close. Each time an effort was made to approach her, Donna was take flight. Rescuers began to worry about the stress the rescue attempts were causing on her wound, and became fearful that the arrow would begin to cause damage if it tore her her wound.

As Donna began to capture media attention, daily updates flooded the press

As mounting media coverage swarmed Donna's home at the pond near the 13th hole, rescuers had an idea. Paradise Palmer Aline Hunter had volunteered to take a night swim in the pond, and at the right moment, the media would simultaneously turn on their lights, lighting up the night sky, distracting Donna and allowing her to be rescued. As Aline waded into the pond, the media waited for just the right moment to flash their lights. All was going according to plan, until it was Dapper Dan who alerted Donna to the impending capture. He quacked, and Donna took off in flight again.

Donna proves elusive to rescue attempts

Finally, Humane Society volunteers hatched one last, un-glamorous plan to capture Donna. She would be fed two pieces of bread laced with sodium amytol, which had been prescribed by the chief veterinarian of wild fowl at UC Davis. Even after consuming the roofied bread, Donna still remained alert, and took nearly 15 minutes to finally settle down. But once she started to drift off near the edge of the pond, she perked up for one final escape once she saw volunteers with her much-hated net. Donna waded into the water, then, broke free and flew to the adjacent lake. Human society volunteers followed the drugged-up Donna and finally netted her. 

She was still very much agitated, and rescuers quickly wrapped her in a towel and escorted her to her next journey. A helicopter was waiting on a nearby fairway, and Donna was air-evacuated to the Black Mountain Animal Hospital, where under the care of veterinarian Dr. Gary Weddle, surgery was performed and the arrow removed. Donna spent five days recovering, before she was brought back home to Paradise Palms to be reunited with her mate and ducklings. Neighbors kept a close eye on her, and were happy to report a happy ending for Donna. 

Donna's capture was front page news

Donna's story inspired a children's book, T-shirts, a Donna the Duck Party thrown by Bob Stupak at Vegas World, and even North Las Vegas ceremoniously 'adopted' her. She brought a feel-good story  to Las Vegas and the nation, and became one of the most memorable wildlife residents of Paradise Palms. Donna continued to live in Paradise Palms after her return, settling down in the pond adjacent to the 18th hole.  

Donna inspired parties, T-shirts and real estate advertisements

Homecoming for Donna

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