Monday, 19 November 2012

Emus: From golden goose to curse

Following the busting of the emu investment business in Erode and surrounding districts that resulted in the abandonment of thousands of emus, the tall, lanky bird that was once seen as the ‘golden egg-laying-goose’ is now seen as a curse here.  Over the past few weeks alone, several emus have been killed and eaten or allowed to die due to lack of food in private farms owned by duped citizens. 

Senior veterinarians and animal husbandry experts however argue out the emu is not such an economically unattractive bird after all. “The business model promoted by the fraudulent firms was a failure. Emu farming is a successful business model and has been practiced for years in many countries as well as in some other states in India,” said a senior veterinarian here. 

Experts point out that most emu investment firm owners did not know much about the bird and its economic potential. “Emu meat is essentially red meat consumed by a large section of the population. But, the meat remains tender only until the bird reaches two years of age. If we wait till the bird starts breeding which usually takes about four years of age in India, the meat would be hard and not suitable for public consumption,” said Dr. Asokan, senior veterinary physician and director of the Corporation Zoo here. “If the bird is reared for its meat , it needs to be used before it attains two years.”

Another factor that contributed towards the failure of the model is that while it is common knowledge that emu feathers, egg shells, the bird’s fat that can be used to generate oil, are all of economic value, no emu grower or promoter focused on developing the supporting industry for building these products which has good export potential.

“If the utility of the bird is carefully studied and then reared using scientific methods and adapting to local conditions, the birds would be much cheaper and a good return on investment. Unfortunately, neither the promoter nor the investor focused on this aspect of the business,” said another animal husbandry expert here.
Veterinarians claim that while the initial experiment with emu breeding seems to have misfired, long term, sustained and committed emu growers could actually see good return on their investments.

Abandoned emus could be moved to state animal husbandry farms that are under utilized

As the cost of feeding emu birds has been seen as the main reason for duped farmers abandoning the birds with the processed food suggested by emu farm promoters costing several hundred rupees, animal lovers and animal husbandry professionals propose natural food such as fruit and vegetable waste that could be healthier for the birds as well as economical instead.

“Emu is basically a grazing bird and can feed on its own when left in the wild or inside a large farm. The state government currently manages atleast eight animal husbandry farms with each farm spreading across a minimum of 800 acres with proper fencing. If the birds are released in these farms, they need not be fed and will be healthier and protected too,” said sources in the state animal husbandry department.

They pointed out that most farms in the state especially the ones close to the affected region such as the ones at Orthanadu, Ooty etc are not being utilized for any other activity presently. “If the state government moves these abandoned emus to the farms, the birds would graze and feed themselves. Besides, the government could also conduct training programmes for farmers in emu breeding as is done with other cattle and poultry,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

However, a senior official in the state animal husbandry department said that they could not much about the birds as the case was with the courts. “These birds have been purchased by private investors and belong to them. We cannot take decisions on our own. The case is in the court and we will have to abide by the court directive on the future of the birds. If they ask us to move them to our farms, then we will do so,” the official said.

He also pointed out that the state government had already allocated Rs. 1 crore towards feeding the abandoned birds. “We are also willing to spend more if it is needed to protect the bird from starvation. But, we will not be able to act on our own regarding the future of the birds,” the senior official said.

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