Meridian Star

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August 10, 2013

Emu on the loose!

MERIDIAN —     On Causeyville Road last week, Lauderdale County Sheriff's Department Dep. Joseph Mathis was in hot pursuit of a suspect — but it was not your everyday burglar or thief.

    In fact, what Mathis was looking for was an emu, a flightless bird similar to an ostrich, only smaller.

    In the past week the emu has been spotted in several different locations around central Lauderdale County with the most recent sighting being at Evangel Temple Church on Highway 145 south of Meridian. Debbie Boles, the wife of Pastor Mike Boles, snapped a photo of the bird as it loafed among the flower beds of the church last Sunday.

    "We have no idea where it came from," Debbie Boles said Friday. "We came out of church services and there it was, in the flower beds, just walking around."

    Boles said it was neat to see an emu just walking around as if it owned the place. She said after awhile, and with the traffic coming and going out of the parking lot, the bird decided to go elsewhere.

    "It just walked off," Boles said. "I've heard people say recently it has been seen still around in this area but I haven't seen it."

    Central Dispatch, who handles 911 emergency calls in Lauderdale County, received a couple of calls Thursday concerning an emu in the vicinity of Evangel Temple. Out of concern the bird may wander into the roadway and cause an accident, a Mississippi Highway Patrol trooper from Troop H in Meridian was sent out to take a look.

    "A trooper was dispatched to the area but the bird apparently had vanished into thin air by the time he arrived," said Andy West, the public relations officer for Troop H. "We will keep and eye out."

    James Gardner is very familiar with emus. He owns Bamboo Emu Farm on Lakeview Golf Course Road. He, like thousands of other Americans, got into the commercial emu farming business in the early 1990s. Emu farming started in Western Australia in 1987. Emus are farmed primarily for their meat, leather, and oil. It was estimated that the number of growers in America had dropped from about 5,500 in 1998 to 1,000 to 2,000 in 2013.

    "We kept them because they have become pets," Gardner said. "I have received several phone calls in regards to the emu being seen but it isn't one of mine."

    Gardner said his son, Mark Gardner, has been up around Evangel Temple Church a couple of times to try to find and then catch the big bird but so far has been unsuccessful.

    Although Gardner said his birds are very tame and approachable, an emu that is cornered can become a very nasty customer.

    "If they can they will just run away," Gardner said. "They can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. But if one is cornered, then those long legs and their feet can really hurt you."

    Gardner said he has no idea where this emu could have come from, adding that as far as he knows his emus are the only ones in Lauderdale County.

    LCSD Chief Dep. Ward Calhoun said many years ago several emus escaped their pen in another part of the county and were a real handful to corral.

    "I just remember them being hard to catch and not wanting to get near them because of the way they can kick with those long legs," Calhoun said.

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