Emus And People

Emus have been roaming Australia for eighty million years, when dinosaurs still walked the Earth. But even though they survived the extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, they came close to being wiped out by humans. In 1901, farmers in Western Australia built a 682-mile (1,100-kilometer) fence to keep emus away from grain crops. But the fence disrupted emu migration and as many as 50,000 birds died each year from starvation.

In 1932, the Australian government literally declared war on the big bird. Army troops with truck-mounted machine guns and hand grenades were used to hunt down and kill emus. The war was short-lived after the army learned the fast-running birds could easily outmaneuver them. Still, it is estimated that hundreds were killed. Emus are now protected by law and the total population in the wild is estimated at 500,000 to one million.

Emus are raised commercially in the United States, Australia, Europe, and South Africa for their meat, skin, eggs, and feathers. Farmers in Australia often consider them agricultural pests. Emu oil is also being studied in the United States for its possible medical applications. It is used as an antiseptic, moisturizer, and anti-inflammatory agent. It is also found in eye creams, hair care products, and other cosmetics. Research indicates that emu oil promotes wound healing and may be effective in treating arthritis. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved its use for medical conditions.

The emu is the largest Australian bird, and is found throughout the continent. (Janis Burger/ Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

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