Struthio (ostrich) 

Camelus (camel-like)



1. North African Ostrich 

2. Somali Ostrich 

3. East African/Masai Ostrich Redneck

4. South African Ostrich Blueneck 

South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe

5. Syrian Ostrich- Extinct in 1941



In the first century AD, when the emperor Commodus held up a head of an Ostrich after the gladiator games and showed it to the senators, while the Ostrich ran around the arena headless, he was the laughing stock of the aristocracy. However, Ostrich was a popular entertainment those days in the arenas of ancient Rome. They were used both to pull chariots instead of horses in races and to fight gladiators. Generals wore the feathers of Ostrich on their helmets into battle, while their wives would ride the big birds in a parade in their honor.  The public would throw coins at the birds in the arena as they would eat the little metal tokens with no sign of indigestion. The ancient Romans were simply fascinated by the powerful bird that was able to kick back so fiercely that many a gladiator lost their lives fighting these giant birds while the crowd applauded and cheered at the spectacle before them. 

Around the same time in ancient Egypt, Queen Arsinoe rode an Ostrich with a saddle. It is believed that the Egyptians put in a great effort to domesticate the Ostrich and it became the emblem of Themei, the Egyptian Goddess of Truth and Justice. 

For people of ancient Rome and Egypt, the Ostrich not only represented amusing entertainment but a masterful meal as both the meat, eggs and yes (!) the brain, were considered a delicacy when prepared by cooks. One emperor in the 3rd Century AD had 600 Ostrich brains prepared for a banquet. In addition, the egg shells were used as drinking cups & other liquid containers, and together with the plumage and feathers, these Ostrich attributes were a great means of decoration. The Romans also used Ostrich oil for skin care of which evidence has been found as far back as the first century AD. The oil was used widespread to help heal anything from dry skin to open lesions and burns.

Because of the fact that the Ostrich has a great potential to supply products for human consumption, whether it is eggs, meat or feathers, this bird was hunted to the brink of extinction and now has been given a protective status in most of its habitats in the wild. The Arabian and West African Ostrich is listed as endangered by USFWS. Specific populations in the wild are protected under CITES.

This big bird with feet resembling an extinct large dinosaur has indeed its place in history. One stands with amazement at the sheer height and the size of its bones, in particular the thighs. The immensely well developed thighs are evidence that this bird is capable of speeds of up to 43 miles per hour in short bursts, and up to 30 miles per hour at sustained speed (up to 15 minutes or more) with strides up to 12 ft., able to kick any enemy with deadly force to protect itself in case of need.

The Ostrich then is the biggest living bird today as it stands between 6 and 10 ft. tall and can weigh more than 400 lbs. Birds have been known to live up to 70 years of age, but the average life span is between 45 and 50 years.

One of the oldest birds in the world, they existed as a species 40 million years ago as they used to graze the lands in Asia, Europe and Africa. Now they can only be found on the African continent in the wild. Ostrich farms however  are common in many countries where the birds are bred for supplying humans with products for consumption.

Female Ostrich are called hens and can lay eggs every 2nd day, from March to September. Eggs weigh anywhere between 3-4 lbs. Normally they lay between 30 - 50 eggs a year, but cases have been recorded of more than 100 annually. The incubation time for the eggs is 42 -43 days, producing chicks of about 10 inches tall weighing about 2 pounds. Even when her eggs are mixed in with those of other birds, the female Ostrich shows an uncanny ability to distinguish her own from the rest of the bunch. 

Ostriches only have two toes, and one toenail. They have three pairs of eyelids and do not possess a keeled sternum (breastbone) like most other birds. Unlike popular believe, an Ostrich does not stick its head in the sand but stretches out its neck on the ground in order not to be seen by predators. In spite of the fact that the Ostrich brain is smaller than its eye, this bird is by no means stupid although difficult to domesticate or train due to their lack of brain size. These birds are able to detect a predator from a large distance, not only because of their height but also their excellent eyesight.


Most of its diet consists of vegetation, fruit, seeds, leaves, shoots, shrubs, succulent plants; also invertebrates, occasionally lizards, and other small vertebrates. Stones are ingested to aid in digestion.

In captivity too, Ostriches need plenty of water and grit aids in digestion, including small stones or commercially available grit aids from feed stores. They should be fed a supplemental alfalfa source, pellets or cubes are preferable to hay since they cause less waste


Feather Farming:

As mentioned previously, the Ostrich provides many products to humans. There are the feathers, eggs, skin, hide, oils and of course meat. Products range from boots, handbags, jewelry, feather dusters, hand-painted decorative eggs and red meat.

Currently, South Africa is the world's leader in Ostrich farming with about 95 % of the global production of Ostrich products. Other countries where Ostrich farming is prominent are Australia, USA, Zimbabwe, Israel, Namibia, China, Europe and Botswana. Initially the Ostrich farming industry focused on the feather products, by 1975 the focus shifted to its hide an currently since about 10 years ago meat has become the main focus.

           For a while, a fertile egg was selling for about $1,000, six-month old chicks were going for about $6,000 and adult breeding pairs were selling for between $25,000 and $50,000.  A big slump in Ostrich farming through the nineties where Ostrich products just were not marketable any longer, caused these birds to suffer in particular in the US. Farmers would run out of money and not be able to feed the large amounts of birds at their ranch. The birds consequently often starved to death by the hundreds or ended up roaming the streets in many states after having escaped their poorly kept-up captive breeding grounds. They were shot, sometimes hundreds at a time by means of machine guns simply because they were no longer able to provide a source of money. The biggest problem right now facing Ostrich breeders in the US is that there are not enough birds available and recently a deadly virus carried by imported Ostrich called the heartwater fever virus caused quarantine restrictions for any animals coming out of Africa. This virus is contagious in chickens, turkey and cattle, and when undetected can wipe out large amounts of Ostrich.


Previous Page Home Page

Thanks to Brigitte Ivory for her research for this page!

copyright 2001 Wildlife Survival Sanctuary Inc