Monday, November 10, 1997

Loose emus causing problems across state

CONROE, Texas (AP) - Speeding along at up to 35 mph, they are becoming frequent travelers of Texas farm-to-market roads.

Emus have overtaken tractors as the biggest pests slowing rural Texans as they try to get places. And the flightless birds are not only annoying but dangerous, Montgomery County Agriculture Agent Mike Heimer said.

"Their legs would get wiped out and these guys could come flying through the windshield and kill somebody," he told the Conroe Courier.

Homeless emus are causing serious problems for law enforcement authorities in counties across the state, ranging from Montgomery County in Southeast Texas to Grayson County in North Texas.

Heimer said the deteriorating market for emus is causing ranchers who bought into the market to want out. Rather than keep feeding the emus, they set them loose.

The flightless Australian birds were brought to the United States a few years ago by farmers who had visions of them replacing cattle as a cash crop.

But the market has crashed. A pair of emus that once brought $45,000 or more now might bring in $20 apiece if a buyer could be found, said Don Kuker, a Texas Department of Agriculture spokesman.

The large birds that can reach 6 feet tall and 100 pounds are showing up everywhere. The spottings have increased to four times a week in recent months.

Grayson County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Johnny Waldrip says his office has fielded dozens of calls from "people finding them in their yards, or on gravel county roads."

An emu that showed up on a soccer field was able to escape Jim Blount of the Montgomery County Animal Office.

"It jumped the fence and got away from us and went off in the woods and we weren't able to locate it," Blount said.

And if they can't catch them or pen them up, sometimes they have to kill them, Blount said.

"About four or five weeks ago, we had one that was on the freeway," he said. "With no place to hem it up, we had to put it down."

Heimer said that might be the best solution for ranchers considering setting their emus loose.

"I know a lot of folks that have raised them and I've said the best thing you can do is shoot 'em and dump 'em in a pit and be done with them," he said. "You can't get them off your feed bill and there's no place to ship 'em so the best thing to do is just destroy 'em."