In the UK, a leading animal charity has warned that pet emus are not suitable domestic pets after a high profile case involving a female emu called Kevin.
24-year-old Charlotte Harrison raised Kevin from infancy after her father gave her an emu egg bought off eBay for £25. She tended to the egg in an incubator for 47 days before Kevin was hatched last week, imitating the squeaking noises of an emu mother to help the chick feel safe. The mother of three compared the experience to childbirth.
"Having coaxed him through the birth, I feel so protective of Kevin," she told the Daily Mail. "I think it's because I nurtured him through incubation to hatching and the process has similarities to pregnancy."
After posting videos of Kevin on YouTube, including one where she discovered that her pet was actually female, Harrison received a distressing visit from the RSPCA, a British animal charity. "I was hurt that someone tipped off the RSPCA because we'd created a lovely home for Kevin," she said. Later, she voluntarily committed Kevin into their care.
"It's so sad without Kevin," Harrison added forlornly. "I cried saying goodbye."
While Harrison and Kevin's time together was short, it was full of joy. Harrison used her YouTube channel to chronicle happier times with Kevin. Here she is feeding Kevin broccoli: "Here boy," Harrison coaxes. Kevin seems to like broccoli. In another, Kevin runs into a wardrobe (she appears unharmed.)
In comments to Broadly, a RSPCA spokesperson denied they forcibly separated Kevin from her mother. "We received a call about the emu and went to speak to her," the spokeperson says. "During our officers' conversations with her they spoke about the different needs of an emu…When our officer explained this to them, they realized they could not meet her needs and signed her over to us."
It's not technically illegal to own an emu in the UK, but it is not advisable. Emus are the second largest bird in the world by height, and can grow up to 1.9 meters tall. They have also been known to become sexually attracted to their owners. As such, they are obviously inappropriate household pets.
Meanwhile, the RSPCA claim to have relocated Kevin to specialist care. However, Broadly has been unable to independently verify Kevin's whereabouts as the animal charity refused to disclose Kevin's location or provide us with the contact details for her new family.
"We are deeply concerned about the number of exotic animals now being kept as pets," warns RSPCA exotics officer Philip Hamilton. "We would encourage anyone thinking of getting an exotic pet to find out as much as possible about the animal's needs and whether they're a realistic pet."
A chastened Harrison has changed her views on emu ownership. "I don't even know why people would just think, 'I'm going to buy an emu,' and then buy an emu," Harrison commented in a recent video. "There's no rushing into emu-keeping. If you're thinking about doing emus…[wait] you've had time to plan and prep everything for them. They're not to be messed with."
Disturbingly, the underground emu trade continues, with emu eggs widely available on eBay. In the course of my investigations, I even stumbled across one listing offering an adult male emu for sale. The fear is that there may be other vulnerable emus out there in need of a loving, adequately sized home.