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A true-blue battler

Unfairly judged?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Feral cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Perhaps not so adapted to Australia

Keg of muscle





The Emu

A curious wanderer

"If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world." Major Meredith

Emus have been walking the plains of Australia in something reasonably close to their present form for about 80 million years. The Emu was around when the dinosaurs still walked the plains. They knew Australia when it was covered in rainforest. They saw the McDonald Ranges when they were the height of the Himalayas.

The Emu's ability to survive such changes says much about its adaptability. According to folklore, Emus have a mysterious mechanism that tells them where the rain is, and will travel for hundreds of kilometers to take advantage of a deluge. They seem to be keenly attuned to subtle weather cues, particularly the sight of distant cloud formations and the sound of thunder from afar. They are opportunistically nomadic and feed on grains, flowers, fruit, soft shoots, insects, mice, grubs, and even other animal dung. They are powerful swimmers and and capable of crossing any river. Although they must drink every day, they are very good conservers of water. Their feathers deflect most of the sun's heat which allows them to forage right through the day when nearly all other animals must take shelter.

They also have a great sense of curiosity and will investigate anything unusual. When hunting, some Aborigines used to exploit this curiosity. One Aborigine would lay on his back with his feet kicking in the air. When an Emu came to investigate, another Aborigine would leap out of a bush and whack it with a club.

Emu's can be attracted by kicking legs in the air.

With few humans now living a nomadic existence, a full grown emu has few predators. But if they must fight, they have powerful leg muscles which combined with ferocious talons, are capable of disembowelling a predator of human size.

Perhaps the most novel aspect of the emu is its mating. Once cupid's arrow strikes, the gentlemen and his fair maiden mate every day. Every second or third day, the female will lay a dark green egg weighing about half a kilogram. After the lady lays her seventh egg, the male will become broody and begin sitting on the eggs. The female will then seek another male for more intimate rendezvous. After her act of infidelity, she may return to lay more eggs. As many as half the chicks in the brood may be fathered by others. Once the male starts brooding, he will not eat, drink or defecate. For the next eight weeks, he will survive on accumulated body fat, losing up to one third of his body weight. Meanwhile, the female may go on to another lover's nest to lay more eggs. In a good season, a female Emu may nest up to three times. Once the chicks hatch, the male will protect them. He will also adopt any strange chick found wandering, as long as it is no bigger than the chicks in his own brood.

Despite being an amazing creature, Australians haven't always looked upon with great affection. At the height of the depression, Western Australian farmers called in the army to fight an "Emu War". Soldiers armed with machine guns mounted on trucks, spent several days trying to engage the enemy. But the birds seemed adept at rapid battlefield manoeuvres and were difficult targets to hit. When they did stop a bullet, they showed a remarkable capacity to keep moving. The birds even won the admiration of their enemy. The artillery commander, a Major Meredith, later said: "If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world." The experiment was quickly abandoned, amid debate as to who should pay for the wasted ammunition.

The dislike of Emus is largely an economic one with graziers regarding the Emu as a competitor for food and water. Although Emus indeed drink water and eat grass, they also benefit graziers by eating enormous quantities of plague insects like locusts or caterpillars.

As a commercial products themselves, Emus have great potential. They are particularly suitable for degraded, overgrazed properties. Unlike cattle and especially sheep, they do not cause soil compaction or destroy grass roots, and Emu dung gradually helps native vegetation recover. Presently there are about 250 Emu farms in Australia, and many more overseas. Emu oil is used for the treatment of muscle aches and sprains. Emu skin makes excellent leather, and Emu meat is sold in the niche gourmet market.

Questions to think about

The forgotten shield bearer

The Kangaroo and Emu are two animals that can not walk backwards. As a metaphor of the great Australian trait to leave baggage in the past and look optimistically to the future, the two hold the shield on the Australian Coat of Arms. Whereas have been used to represent Australia via sporting teams etc countless times, the Emu has. Think of some explanations for why.

Market the Emu

Emus are one of the few native Australian animals that are suitable for farming. Unlike Kangaroos, they don’t lose weight when enclosed and are actually quite easy to enclose. They are also very environmentally friendly. Their feet don’t tear up the toil. Furthermore, they are omnivores so they will eat huge amounts of insects that may have otherwise threatened food crops.

Under good captive conditions, a pair of emus may produce ten eggs a year, which yield on average 5.5 chicks. At the end of 15 months, these would yield 4m2 of leather, 150 kg of meat, 5.5 kg of feathers, and 2.7 litres of oil. Eggshells of infertile eggs are suitable for carving.

Create a marketing campaign to increase demand for the various products from Emu. Consider

  1. Will the meat be positioned as gourmet or low class dogfood like Kangaroo?
  2. Emu feathers have been used on the slouch hat. Are there any iconic pieces of clothing it could be used on?
  3. Carving emu egg shells used to be a form of high art in Australia. Could this tradition be revived?
  4. Organic – Australia is the largest producer of organic food in the world. How could the Emu help satisfy demand for organic and environmentally friendly food?
  5. Lamb is positioned as a dinky di true blue Aussie meat. Could emu ever be seen the same way?
  6. Festivals – Lobster on romantic occasions, Turkey at Christmas, Vegemite when travelling, could Emu be positioned as the food of a particular time?
  7. What cooking shows could be sponsored so that they use the Emu in recipes or challenges?
  8. Create a slogan







Environmental Issues

Environmental problems
The cultural basis of defining environmental problems

Climate change in Australia
Looking to the past to predict the future

Indigenous environmentalism
Differences between Indigenous and non-indigenous land management

The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

Bush fire prevention
To go native or exotic?