Duty-bound by an overwhelming sense of adventure to explore, we found ourselves on a whirlwind of a tour through Australia several years ago. We hit all the essential spots while we were there; toured around Sydney, a couple days in Melbourne, and a visit to Brisbane with the nearby Gold Coast. The trip itself exceeded even my wildest expectations. Everything looked exactly how I’ve seen it pictured my entire life in movies and photographs, the ocean was a sea of crystal-clear perfection and the city skylines were truly larger than life. Every country you visit as a tourist generally will have unknown ins and outs that are pretty specific to the location, but the most surprising thing for me on this visit was the sheer number of Emus around the entire continent.
Upon my return to my home country of Canada I dug a little deeper on this interesting creatures, and found they had quite the extensive involvement with the country of Australia. It turns out, that not only does this massive avian species have a huge population, but the country started an all-out war against the Emus.
The Emu by itself is such an interesting and unique animal. The emu is the second largest species of bird, standing at over five feet tall. The only larger bird in the world is the ostrich, which generally resides in Africa and stands closer to a minimum of 6 feet. The first recorded sighting of an emu in was in 1696, when western explorers first found what would later become Australia. The emu has vestigial wings although it remains flightless, and is instead equipped with three toes; which is a widely seen avian adaptation to enable them to run at reasonably high speeds.
Historically, the emu has been nothing short of an economic disaster for the country, resulting in costly destruction and an all-out battle between farmers and the local emu population. Soldiers returning home after the first World War were granted considerable lands for wheat cultivation, and while many challenges were already present, the arrival of the emu made things even worse. Migrating home inland after their breeding season, the emus found their land cleared out and began widely destroying crops and breaking down fences which enabled further destruction from local wildlife. Widespread damage of the overall yield of crops eventually led to the Emu War, which lasted from early November to mid December of 1932.
There were two military operations during this month-long attempt to remove emus from invading local agriculture. This war was conducted under the command of 7th Heavy Battery of The Royal Australian Artillery. The initial operation proved to be highly unsuccessful, namely due to the fact that when presented with heavy gunfire the birds would simply scatter, and prove to be a difficult target. The second attempt only a couple of weeks later was much more successful, and although it was widely criticized by existing conservation groups, they were able to save much of the remaining wheat crops. On several occasions that followed, many wheat farmers requested additional military assistance, but were denied. Instead, the government instituted a bounty system for emus which proved to be highly effective.
Worry not, animal lovers, for many people living in mid-century Australia quickly turned to developing more effective fences and barriers against the emus. Today, Emus still reside in nearly all regions of the continent and are an extremely low risk for becoming endangered anytime soon. On the list of places to go in your lifetime I highly recommend visiting this beautiful country. While you’re there, don’t forget to learn the local history, which in this case can pertain to a very interesting story about the notorious Emu.