CHERTSEY, England - An 800-year-old tradition of counting swans owned by Queen Elizabeth began Monday, South African news agency EWN reported.
The annual ceremony of "swan upping" has become synonymous with the modern practice of wildlife conservation, according to EWN.
The "uppers" are the queen's team of men and women in red shirts emblazoned with her royal logo who are directed by a "swan marker" wearing a gold-embroidered ceremonial blazer.
The upping includes three teams -- one representing the queen and the others representing the old trade associations of the Vintners and Dyers -- that patrol the River Thames in southern England for more than five days to capture, tag and release any families with young swans (cygnets).
EWN reported the ceremony dates back to the 12th century, when the English crown first claimed ownership of all mute swans, which were considered a delicacy and were served at royal banquets.
Swans are now protected by law.
Last year's count showed 132 new cygnets in the Thames, which reversed a declining trend in previous uppings.
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