Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Life in a Zoo the Fictional Version: The Emus

A breeder pair of emus in their pen.

Towards the end of our zoo days, we began breeding emus. These are giant birds related to ostriches that come from Australia. Emus are a bit smaller than ostriches. They are about six feet tall and weigh roughly 130 pounds each.

Emus make fine livestock animals. They are very hardy, easy breeders. They produce delicious red meat, fine textured leather, and excellent medicinal oil. People have bred emus successfully everywhere from Canada to Florida. It only takes a pen 50 feet wide by 100 feet long to house one breeder pair. It does take wire six-feet tall to house emus.  

I love emus, and could not resist having them in The Thwarting of Mr. Dingsnapple.  I decided to have a pen of emus near the entrance to the zoo.  The birds in the story have a much nicer pen than my emus.  I guess it’s because Mr. Dingsnapple had more money to spend on his animal pens than we had. Looking at this picture, you will get the idea of what an emu pen is like.

I decided to give our emus Australian accents. However, outside of watching the Crocodile Dundee movies, I’ve not had much experience with Australians. In order to make sure I got some of the slang terms correct, I looked up Australian slang on the internet. 

Emus are not too intelligent; in fact, they are quite stupid.  The brain is about the size of one eyeball!  Every now and then, we would find several emus wandering around loose in the compound. I knew they were not smart enough to figure out how to get the latch to their gate open. Usually, they were just playing with it and accidently slipped the latch… we would say, “Oops! An emu just fell out of his pen!”

I would slowly walk towards the bird, arms outstretched. I would waggle my fingers and the emu (who has really good vision) would glance at me and start moving away. I talked softly to it and walked it towards the pen.  Joe would hurry ahead, open the gate, and stand so the bird couldn’t walk past him.  With any luck, we could get the bird to the gate without it deciding to panic and run.

Once we got the bird to the gate, we would have to go through what we called “Pushing-The-Bird-Through-A-Wall-Of-Fire.” For some reason, our birds had an issue about going through narrow spaces, such as the entrance to a pen.

The bird would stop and cast about for an escape route.  I would then rush the bird from behind, wrap my arms around its chest (waist high to me), hug it to my chest and try to shove it through the gate. 

Sometimes I could do it so quickly the bird was in the pen before it realized what was happening.  Sometimes it would hiss and kick, trying to brace it’s feet against the gate posts.  If I was lucky, I could lean back and lift the bird so that its feet were off the ground. Then I could shove it in. Sometimes it took several minutes of bulldogging that bird to get it through the gate. 

Once inside the pen, the bird would give a little shake and walk off as if nothing had happened. 

One of the fun things about emus is that they are very curious.  They love shiny things and floppy things. When we brought visitors to the zoo, we give them the Full Emu Experience and guide them into our yearling pen. 

Yearling Pen
First, I would advise the visitors to remove their shiny jewelry, especially earrings. Otherwise, a bird might snatch it right off their ears!

We would warn the visitors not to run. “I promise you, you cannot outrun an emu, so don’t even try!”  Emus can run up to 35 miles per hour.  The emus would gather around the visitors, eyeing them up and down. It can be a bit unnerving to have a giant bird look you straight in the eye!

I would take a rag and tuck it into my back pocket. Sure enough, before a minute or two had passed, an emu would creep up, snatch the rag, and run.

Then the fun would begin!  The other emus would chase after it, trying to snatch the rag from each other. It was always good for a laugh.

One of our favorite things to do with emus was to whistle at them.  For some reason, when you whistle, they go crazy. They will toss their heads back, leap into the air, kick and spin around!  It’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen!

I don’t care so much for the music, but this is a pretty good YouTube of how emus dance.  They respond like this when you whistle at them.  Sometimes they even lay down and roll over during that wild cavorting!

Thank you, Animal Planet,
for the wonderful clip!

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