Early last year, in a post entitled Identity Crisis, I wrote about an emu that was being hand-reared by a sheep-farming friend of mine in Australia. I was sorry to receive this account this morning when I opened my e-mails:
Today the 10th Sept has turned out to be quite a sad day for Robert and me. My pet emu Chirpy has just died. For the last 4 days we had not seen him. This was not too unusual as he often went 2 or 3 days without coming home for his dog pellets. If I called him a couple of times he would appear within a couple of hours at a gallop over the paddocks and clearing the fences with yards to spare. He would call out as he got near and the sound was like a dog growling. I used to sense the noise before I actually heard it and would be waiting with his pellets. He always had to allow me to pat him before he got his treat and he also had to eat out of my fingers before the pellets were put on the ground for him too squat down, growling all the time he ate.
These last few days I haven’t called him home until I realized it was about 4 days since we last saw him. I called him and when he didn’t appear Robert said he last saw him with the lambs we are feeding to get ready for sale and they are in a paddock we call the jail. The lambs are fed ever day with a mix of cotton seed and lamb pellets, plus their salt lick into which we add our secret ingredients. He said he would check the paddock when he went down that afternoon to top up the lambs feed.
This was on Sunday. He saw Chirpy that afternoon in the distance standing under a tree near the dam. He appeared at a distance to be fine. However yesterday early afternoon Robert came racing home for me. He had seen Chirpy still under the same tree but sitting this time so went to check him. He found the emu very distressed and unable to stand or call out, so he came for me as he felt the emu would behave better when he tried to get him into the back of the ute if I was there.
He was right. Chirpy was very distressed and sick. Robert managed to lift him into the ute and we slowly drove home with him sitting up and watching where we were taking him to. Now don’t forget Chirpy stands about 6 foot tall now and the claws on the feet are as sharp as razors and can really do a lot of damage if they put their mind to using them. They are very much like the feet on kangaroos, which are equally as dangerous.
When we got him home we examined him to see if we could see any sign of injury, including looking to see if he had been shot. But saw nothing. He was very badly de-hydrated, in fact he was so ill he was unable to drink or swallow on his own so Robert filled syringes of water and put them down his throat. He also opened his mouth and put pellets into his mouth, followed by water to wash them down. Emus do not have teeth, they just seem to swallow everything and I think they must digest the food once it is in their gut or stomach. Chirpy just sat there and let us administer to him. He was so good. Although it was not a cold night I found out the extension light he always had in his pen when he was a chick and we attached it to the back of the ute so that it would shine on him and give him comfort during the night. We also put a rug over him to keep any cold at bay.
We tried to think what could have happened to him and the only answer we can come up with is that both the cotton seed and the pellets have a protein level of 30% and maybe that is too high as a combination for emus. We rang vets, we rang the zoos in Australia but no one could tell us.
We went to bed very heavy in heart not knowing if he would be alive or dead this morning.
He was alive but there was no improvement in his condition and we decided then that if by nightfall his condition was still the same we would have to put him down. We watered him, fed him, patted him, talked to him but by this early afternoon he had not improved. We had given him injections of stuff we use on sheep if they get into this same state and also stuff we had for the horses but nothing seemed to help and then about 1.45 pm while we were out watering him again and moving him into deeper shade, he just struggled once and died.
We have again looked for injury marks but have found none. So we think the feed must have been the culprit, and emus are like pigs and will gorge themselves on feed.
It is sad for us. He was a wonderful pet as much as a wild animal can ever be a pet. He was not caged or penned or tied up and had 3500 acres to wander on. We have a few groups of other wild emus and he was always free to go with them if he chose to. But he never did. He was a character and sometimes drove Robert wild if he was mustering sheep and Chirpy turned up for his dog biscuits, which Robert did not have. Chirpy would race through the sheep till Robert found something for him to eat, maybe a part of one of his lunch time sandwiches. If we had visitors and they were not taking any notice of him, he developed the art of walking behind them and a good swift peck on the bum soon made him noticed. But with no teeth it did not really hurt, just surprised you. He and I would often go for walks in the paddocks, if we were near the road cars would stop and look at him. I was always worried some one would see him and shoot him one day. But now he is gone from us into that big paddock in the sky just for emus after being with us for 2 years, from a tiny chick to a 6 foot tall delightful animal called “Chirpy ‘
Any angels guarding that paddock in the sky had better watch their backs now Chirpy has arrived!
(Thank you to Katey for the story and photos of Chirpy)