Australia (or ‘Straya as me pals call it) has fought many brutal wars against the ravages of invasive species. I’ve posted before about the Cane Toad and Salvation Jane/Paterson’s Curse. There are many more tragic stories about introduced species causing damage in this ancient and beautiful land.
But it was only today that I read about a great war against one of Australia’s native species, the emu. The emu is a bird…a really big bird.
The emu is a ratite, and the second largest bird in the world, after the ostrich. It can reach up to 6.6 ft (2 m) and is, like all other ratites, flightless. (Kiwis, rheas, and cassowaries are also ratites.)
During the Great Depression following World War I, farmers in Western Australia were struggling to make a living on marginal land. When twenty thousand emus started crashing through fences and generally making a mess of things, the farmers requested military aid.
Enter the WWI vets with machine guns.
The war began in 1932, but it didn’t last long. After six days and 2,500 rounds of machine gun ammunition, the soldiers complained that the emus were using “guerilla tactics”, and beat a hasty retreat.
This is my favourite quote, “If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world…They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.”
A second attack was more successful at reducing the population, but the government refused to intervene again in later years. It sounds to me like the emus won the war!
Widespread culling efforts like this can spell the doom of a species. There are many examples of species that were hunted to extinction (e.g. all twelve Moa species, the Tasmanian Tiger, the Dodo, the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Quagga, the Zanzibar leopard, the Caribbean Monk Seal, the Falkland Island Wolf, the Carolina Parakeet, the Atlas Bear, the Toolache Wallaby, the Sea Mink, the Bubal Hartebeast, Stellar’s Sea Cow….), or near extinction (e.g. the Bison, musk ox…).
But somehow the Emu persisted even in the face of a military intervention! It is still a common species of least concern, despite the fact that soldiers once tried to eradicate it with machine gun fire.