Desert Shores tranquility disturbed by acts of animal cruelty

You don’t believe there are freshwater lakes stocked with fish — and even boating for those who like to sail along the lakes on small craft — right smack in the middle of the Las Vegas desert?

Ah, but there are. It’s no mirage. And if you insist on believing otherwise, then you obviously are not aware of the existence of Desert Shores, a tranquil, 682-acre community that sits in the northwest sector of the city.

There are not only four man-made lakes that bend their ways through the placid community, there is even a sandy beach for swimmers, in addition to the small boats and fishing activity that have become indigenous to the sparkling waters.

But there’s something else that takes to the waters of Desert Shores: ducks and ducklings, hundreds of them. And they’ve been an integral part of Desert Shores since the community was first developed 28 years ago. Nobody knows for certain how they got there, beyond the lure of the lakes and the appearance of a safe environment for fine-feathered friends.

Folks from far and wide frequently visit the master-planned community of 3,350 homes, often accompanied by children, to watch the ducks, black swans, herons and other small wildlife, including turtles and rabbits. During the migrating seasons, they’re joined by Canadian geese.

Motorists know to drive slowly along shorelines where rafts of ducks and bevies of swans commonly gather. That’s because at any time these beautiful creatures may decide to waddle or strut across streets, moving slowly from one lake to another with neither fear of danger nor concern for right-of-way. In fact, it is not uncommon to see cars idling in the middle of a road, sometimes lined up, as they wait patiently for a line of feathered friends to march across the street.

“We have quite a diverse population of water fowl,” said a spokesman for the Desert Shores Community Association. “Some of these animals are even strange-looking. But the most common are the hundreds of ducks and the 25 or so swans.”

Asked if they were transplanted from some other environment when the lakes were built in the late 1980s, he replied, “None of them were brought here. They just came on their own. To the best of my knowledge, they were attracted by the water and decided to make Desert Shores their home.”

But the picturesque and serene atmosphere of almost 30 years of ducks and friends living placidly in Desert Shores were dealt an ugly blow recently. During the still of an early Sunday morning, a black swan was discovered floating dead in one of the lakes, with no signs of trauma. Two baby swans had been killed, possibly by a stone brick that was lying nearby. A swan nest had been disturbed and several eggs were broken, possibly by a rock found near the nest. One dead duck was found on a sidewalk. Two dead ducks were discovered on a different sidewalk near another of the lakes.

It gets even uglier: Suddenly, distasteful graffiti emerged, and Las Vegas Animal Control, which came out that morning to remove the dead ducks and swans, reported that the three ducks that had been found dead on the sidewalks were attacked and killed by a dog. There was no precedent for such an ugly sequence of attacks.

The Metropolitan Police Department and the Nevada Department of Wildlife were called in, and investigations were begun. The spokesman for the Desert Shores Community Association said that pictures of graffiti relating to the animal cruelty were given to the police crime division.

So it all comes down to a few meaningful questions. You might ask what kind of a sick individual, or individuals, would get their jollies from moving through a peaceful community with the intent to slaughter ducks and swans? Why would they so disrupt the beauty of nature? Why would they deprive others — especially children — from enjoying the playfulness of ducks and swans?

After all, Desert Shores is their home, and as the community’s spokesman explained, “They have always lived here.”

There are no plausible answers, other than the fact that we live in such an uncertain and unpredictable society.

Editor’s note: To report information related to these incidents to Metro, call 311 or 702-828-3111.

— Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is now available. Contact him at

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