An emu spotted at large in Chenango County over the weekend was successfully captured and transported to a new home Monday after leading local residents and law enforcement in a chase through the town of Afton.
Afton resident Jennifer Oates said she was in her backyard with her dogs Sunday afternoon when the bird poked its head over her fence.
“She’s a very docile, very good bird,” Oates said. “She seemed drawn to my voice. It’s very likely she was in captivity and used to being around people.”
Oates said she wrangled the emu after pursuing it through the neighborhood, jumping an eight-foot fence in the process. She was assisted by several community members and a deputy from the Chenango County Sheriff’s office, who pulled his car into the roadway to block traffic when the bird took off for the Interstate 88 on-ramp.
Native to Australia, emus are flightless birds and can run at speeds up to 30 mph.
Oates said she was appreciative of the community’s efforts to safely corral the bird, the third confronted by law enforcement in the last six weeks and the first to survive capture.
“People were jumping out of their cars to try to help us,” she said. “It was great to see.”
Residents of Afton and Bainbridge shared sightings of the bird — a young female, not fully grown, by Oates’ estimates — throughout the weekend on a community Facebook page.
A Texas native, Oates said she grew up around emus and knew how to approach the one she spotted in her yard.
“We kept 10 to 12 at a time as pets, and we’d collect the eggs and incubate them,” she said. “This one was very lucky she came to our door.”
Texas was the center of an emu farming craze that swept the nation in the late 1980s and early 1990s as farmers sought to capitalize on America’s "next red meat." Emu meat contains myoglobin, the protein that makes meat red, and is similar to beef in texture and appearance but is lower in fat and sodium, according to the American Emu Association, a nonprofit trade group based in Dallas.
In 1998, the group estimated the birds numbered near one million across the U.S. A 2002 census by the United States Department of Agriculture reported 48,221 emus living in the U.S., but by 2017, the population fell 76 percent to 11,535.
“Once the bottom fell out, we took them in,” Oates said.
Emus are not deadly, but they can kick very hard, Oates said. She said she approached the bird from the side and wrapped her arms around its legs and secured its feet before coaxing it to lie down. Once it was subdued, Oates and a neighbor wrapped it in a blanket and carried it to her pickup truck.
Oates said she housed the emu in her basement overnight, providing it with blankets and feeding it fruit and lettuce until it was picked up Monday morning by representatives from Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville.
By Monday afternoon, the bird was already outside and acclimating well, according to Kerry Gallagher, public relations coordinator for the park.
Animal Adventure has a history of taking in displaced wildlife, Gallagher said. Two alligators found just over a week apart in the Whitney Point area were relocated to the facility in 2017.
“We don’t do captures, but we’re always happy to assist local authorities with placement, surrender and regulatory issues,” Gallagher said.
The park regularly receives calls from concerned local residents when exotic species are spotted where they shouldn’t be, she said, but will only take possession of an animal if it is contained in a controlled area, Gallagher said.
“We just want to see a happy ending for those animals,” she said.
Two escaped emus in Delaware County met dramatic, unpleasant ends last month. One was shot by state troopers on Interstate 88 near Unadilla, and another died of presumed stress after it was captured by troopers in the town of Hancock.
In both circumstances, troopers made every effort to be as humane as possible, according to Aga Dembinska, Troop C public information officer, but they were unsure how to approach or apprehend the birds.
“We’ve had guys try to lasso pigs before, but this was a new one,” Dembinska said.
Emergency dispatchers advised troopers to contact state wildlife rescue officials, who informed them they would only take possession of the emu if it was captured and advised police to kill the bird if necessary, Dembinska said.
Emus are legal to own in New York state and subject to local ordinance on farm operations, classified as livestock under the Agriculture and Markets Law. New York is home to 66 emus living across 17 farms, according to 2017 data from the federal census of agriculture.
Emus, especially those raised in captivity, are generally not prone to escape, Oates said, unless fighting or under stress.
“They’re definitely difficult to handle, but they like humans a lot and can be very protective,” she said.
Oates said she was told by the deputy the bird might be from Masonville, but did not reveal any further information. The Chenango County Sheriff’s office did not return requests for comment.
Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said he had not received reports of missing or rogue emus in the area, and state police did not have any leads.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.