Big Lou the Emu

Big-Lou-by-Doug

VISIT OUR EMU SANCTUARY!

Emus are from Australia. They can run up to 40 miles per hour and
can live to 30 years. Big Lou has lived here for about 20 years.

He likes people, and you can bring him food if you like. You can feed him leaves from around the Land Trust, raw fruits and vegetables chopped bite size (no citrus), crackers and chips. His favorite foods are melons and grapes.

Please keep children and dogs calm and quiet when visiting Big Lou. To get his attention, just call his name. Sorry, during public events Lou gets overstimulated and will be unavailable to visitors. Come back and visit at a quieter time.

Donations are welcome for Big Lou’s feeding and care. You’ll find a donation jar on his fence.  You can also make a check out to “LCCLT” with “Emu” on the memo line.

Keep scrolling down to read Big Lou’s autobiography.

The ducks in Big Lou’s enclosure are both male mallards.
The big one is Aidan and the little one is Eddie.

Contact Dawn Aura, the emu keeper, here.

“I grew up running around the Land Trust, but moved to Athens about 9 years ago. I visited the Land Trust while in Atlanta last year and I was soooo happy to see that Big Lou the Emu was still there! I love him!” – Isabella Beaudoin

Big Lou drawing

(drawing by Chloe)

WHAT THE LAND TRUST MEANS TO ME

by Big Lou the Emu
published in the Lake Claire Clarion, Feb. and March 2012

Part 1

Well, it’s an honor to be asked for my point of view after I’ve lived here among you humans for all these years, quietly minding my own business.

On the other hand, come to think of it, it’s about time!

No one seems to know exactly when I arrived at Amata, Norman Glassman and Marilyn Rosenberg’s place behind the Land Trust on Nelms Ave. Noah Glassman remembers that he was fourteen or fifteen when his parents had the idea of inviting me to live here, along with my mate and our baby. Noah is 33 now, so that puts the date around 1993.

I don’t remember much about that time myself, since I was only about a year old. I only recall feeling traumatized by the journey, during which my beloved mate fell and broke her leg. She had to be euthanized as soon as we arrived, so my residence here began on a very sad note. And while I was still grieving her, dogs broke into our enclosure and fatally attacked my little one. After that I was the lone emu here in the neighborhood.

I wasn’t lonely, though. Besides Noah’s family, I had lots of visitors. Most were humans, but I also enjoyed gossiping with my neighbors in Norman’s “chicken camp.” Several of the hens were quite talkative. And before long, two goats came to live with me and became my close buddies. We didn’t always agree about things, but we were rarely seen apart.

My fenced enclosure in those days extended all the way around the pond and included a lovely grove of bamboo where I could get out of the summer heat, or hide when I didn’t feel like company. Noah’s family built a shelter on that side for me and the goats. At the other end of the enclosure, on the Arizona Ave. side, I could wander all the way up into Dawn and Wing’s back yard.

Dawn soon began bringing me treats to supplement my diet. Norman considered me more or less a wildlife exhibit, so he didn’t feel treats were strictly necessary. But at Dawn’s end of our enclosure, the goats and I were pampered pets.

Noah seemed to outgrow his interest in wildlife after a while, but Dawn had a group of kids at her house every day after school, and the little ones were always happy to see me. It was one of them, a precocious young writer named Amy, who gave me the name “Big,” which came from an acronym she made up – “Beauty In the Garden.”

Noah and his family had originally named me “Louise,” thinking I was a female. When they learned my true gender, they shortened the name to “Lou.” Eventually my two names merged into “Big Lou,” though Dawn still calls me “Big” for short and other folks call me “Lou.” Naturally I prefer “Big,” since when Dawn calls me she’s usually bringing me my lunch. But I’ll answer to either name, just in case it’s someone bringing me a snack.

Even if no food is involved, I enjoy my human visitors, especially the little ones. I miss the crowds who used to show up for Treeman’s tree-climbing classes before the two big trees got sick and had to come down. And I miss the Soulshine folks who rented Amata for a while for their after-school childcare and summer camp. It was fun to have kids around again, so many years after Dawn closed her childcare business.

Most of my visitors these days wander down from the Land Trust, which now owns the pond. Though sometimes I’m not in a social mood and will act a little shy, your visits give me a warm feeling of being part of the community. I especially appreciate the neighbors who bring their children to see how I’m doing, which is very thoughtful. It’s even nicer when they bring me some grapes or crackers. (In the summer, by the way, I do love melons!)

Other humans come by with their dogs, which makes me nervous, especially when the dogs start barking at me. It brings back unpleasant memories of several occasions when dogs got through the fence and chased me just for fun. When I’m frightened, I puff my feathers up to make myself look more threatening. But these dogs were too excited to notice (by gritz). I could have hurt them pretty severely with my big clawed feet, but in my panic I only wanted to run away.

On the open plains of Australia, where my family is from, there’s plenty of room to run. My grandparents told feather-raising stories of the predators they used to outrun, some of which looked a lot like dogs. They advised me not to use my claws unless I was really cornered. “Remember, an emu’s best defense is to run away!” they always said. But it doesn’t work so well in a fenced enclosure.

My enclosure has grown smaller now and I can no longer wander around the pond, but I have a smaller pond of my own in Dawn and Wing’s back yard, and my new fence gives me a much better view of the humans and their peculiar doings. Besides that, it’s much easier for the humans to feed me, too. Why don’t you try it sometime? I may look scary, but I’ve never hurt anyone, I promise!

Part 2

Things have changed around here since the old days when my enclosure included the big pond and the plants grew thick and wild. My buddies the goats and I were semi-wild critters ourselves, and it was much harder to socialize with my human visitors through the fence.

I’ll never forget the day a few years back when Dawn lured me into her upper yard with some food and closed the gate. Then the neighbors gathered and tore down all the fences. I watched in fascination as one fellow climbed into a big noisy machine and started moving the dirt around. He enlarged the old pond, dug a new smaller one, and transformed my overgrown pasture and the surrounding back yards into the beautiful terraced landscape you see today. Then the neighbors put the fences back up, but not quite in the same places.

My pals the goats were long gone by then. I tried to tell them they were going to get in trouble if they kept squeezing through the fence to snack on the various delicacies that grow in our human neighbors’ yards. But they wouldn’t listen. One day a truck came and took them away. I’m sure they went to a great home, but I still miss those ornery goats from time to time.

Various flocks of chickens have come and gone on both sides of the big pond over the years. I miss their clucking and crowing. These days, I have a couple of male mallard ducks to keep me company. They talk a lot, but don’t have much to say that’s interesting to a flightless land bird. They love swimming around in the little pond we share, and I like to watch them.

Speaking of company, Dawn and Wing must have thought I was lonely, because one day they brought a large crate down to their back gate and released another emu into my enclosure. A male, if you can believe it! I’ve never been so upset. I pecked him mercilessly until they separated us, and before long that young emu was off to another home. It would have been different if he was a she, of course, but that would have meant a whole flock of little emus to raise.

I’m not really lonely, but every so often I get in a melancholy mood and find a nice round rock to sit on. To a human it might sound silly, but it comforts me. You see, among us emus the tradition is that after the female lays her egg, the male sits on it to keep it warm until it hatches. It’s a very civilized custom, I’m sure you’ll agree.

All in all, I have a comfortable life here, in spite of the occasional ice and snow. I just grow an extra-thick coat of feathers when I feel the cold weather coming – a skill I strongly recommend you practice if you spend time outdoors in the winter – and Dawn piles some extra straw in my shelter. She brings me two meals a day, rain, shine, or snow, with help from Miriam or Danielle or other neighbors when she can’t do it herself.

Every so often I get bored and stop eating my regular food, so Dawn tries something different. At the moment I get brown rice, green beans, a salad of lettuce, celery, and grapes, plus popcorn and corn chips. I never did care for the “emu chow” Dawn bought once or twice from the animal feed store. I credit my good diet for keeping me in good health all these years.

When I remember my relatives on emu ranches who eat nothing but emu chow and end up as emu burgers or emu oil, I feel pretty lucky to live here in Lake Claire. But still I wonder sometimes. Would I have been happier roaming the Australian outback, foraging for wild food and running away from predators? Having regular meals and a nice straw bed might not be all that great compared to a life of freedom in the outback among my own kind.

But whenever I hear a quavery little voice call, “Big!” or “Lou!” or even just “Emu!” I remember why I’m content to live here so far from my wild relatives. The humans need me. I’m living here as an ambassador from all the wild creatures of this planet, reminding the humans that they don’t live in this beautiful world all by themselves. I am helping both kinds of creatures by bridging the gap between us. In the long run, my life here in Lake Claire could help all of us survive, and I feel privileged to serve. Especially when snacks are involved.

Sorry, Big Lou appreciates the many offers he has received, but he is not available for public speaking engagements.