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Monday, May 18, 2009

That Ain't Big Bird!

Our county is very diverse. From urban apartments and townhouses to acre upon acre of farmlands and everything in between. Suburbs, McMansions, Ghettos, Mini-ranchettes, Huge Ranches and even a large delta region. And in some these areas places are backed up to each other. You can go one block and go from ghetto to Huge ranches or Mini-ranches to rows of high dollar apartments.

Along with all this diversity comes the diversity of animals.

Sure we have the dogs and cats. And being so close in proximity to two large rivers at the base of the the mountains and foothills we have a large host of wildlife. We also have every species of farm animal and then some.

I think it was in the 90's that Ostrich and Emu farms suddenly hit the boom. Seems like everyone thought they could make a fortune with Ostrich or Emu meat and eggs. I'm not exactly sure how successful they were. There are still a few small ranches here and there and emus can still be found on farms and in fields. Novelties I think.

But like any other animal, when opportunity presents itself any animal will take a walk about. The thing about this is, unless you have worked on one of these large bird farms or a zoo, not many ACOs have had experience with Ostriches or Emus. But we learn fast.
I'm working a call in the southwest side of the county, kind of a ghetto neighborhood. I get a call from my supervisor asking where I'm at. I let him know and then he asks me to call him when I am done. When I do call him back he asks me to head out his way, the southeast side of the county. He also has a couple of Animal Care Attendants (ACAs) en route from the shelter. My supervisor explains that he was headed back to the shelter from an appointment when he passed a Emu just casually walking down a rural but well travelled road.
There is are at least two good reasons why my supervisor called for re-enforcements. That is those two bit strong powerful legs with wicked hard and sharp claws. My supervisor has also had previous experience. Bad experience. The reason why you call for backup with these birds.
I arrived at about the same time that the ACAs arrived. One of the ACA was experienced with Emus as he had worked in a zoo. The other ACA had come for the experience I guess.
My supervisor had herded the emu off the road and into a large field that was partially fenced. We quickly discussed strategy. ACA 1, the former zoo employee, and I had lassos. ACA 2 had a rope and a blanket. Our supervisor was manning a video camera.
ACA 1 and I began pushing the Emu into a corner of the field. Since the field was open this was going to be our only opportunity to catch it. ACA 2 was to slowly move in to the bird's front to close the gap. ACA 1 was the one was close enough to spin a loop. Just then the Emu panicked and took off at a run, ACA 1 threw his loop and caught one leg of the bird. ACA 2, being inexperienced ran towards the Emu before ACA 1 had the bird slowed. I don't know what he was thinking. The emu slammed into ACA 2 and knocked him to the ground. ACA 1, thankfully being a big guy, was able to wrap the lasso rope around behind him and jerk the big bird back away from ACA 2. That bird was seconds away from trampling him. I quickly joined ACA 1 and we eased the bird to a walk, moving closer and closer to it up the rope.

Once we got close enough, we maneuvered the rope so that it would wrap around the legs and temporarily trip it and bring it down.

It went down and ACA 1 jumped onto it having to use all his body weight to hold it down. I jumped on it and grabbed the neck. I was yelling at ACA 2 to bring the blanket as we needed to cover the head. This tends to calm birds down, especially large birds. I usually carry a few pillow cases that were ideal for this, but today I didn't have any.

We also had to hurry to secure the legs, especially since ACA 1 was laying across the Emu with a certain part of his anatomy that he didn't want to risk damage to exposed to those lethal feet.

I used several nylon dog leashes to secure the legs together. Then we used the lasso to wrap about the body to make the Emu a little easier to carry.

It took the three of us to carry this emu to our supervisor's waiting truck, and it barely fit into the dog box. We opened up the center divider to give him more room.

Our supervisor congratulated us on a good catch. He caught it all on camera. He said he may use it as a training video.

Oh and the Emu? Well, his owner came and got him the next day. Apparently, Mr. Emu was lonely and went looking for love. His owner planned to find him a companion.

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