The Great Emu War

The Australian War Against Emus is a fascinating - and true - story of failed wildlife nuisance management in the early-mid 1900’s. 

The video version of this post contains shocking emu footage, and other great content. Watch it now by clicking HERE. 

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Following World War I, a large number of Australian World War I veterans were given land from the government to take up farming in Western Australia. 

However, the Great Depression in 1929 came too soon and made life difficult for these settlers. 

To make matters more difficult, an estimated 20,000 Emus showed up after migrating from mating season, and began raiding the farmer’s crops for their benefit. 

These emus began eating and spoiling the crops, and also messing up the land, allowing other wildlife such as rabbits to take over. 

This wildlife nuisance was severe and threatening to not only destroy the livelihoods of these farmers, but also cause food shortages and other issues to Australia if they kept it up. 

Australia needed a plan, and many of these veterans had experience with fully automatic machine guns, and so they thought of a simple plan… 

Why not use these veterans to attack many of these emus and reduce their populations greatly plus deter them from these areas? 

There was only one problem: emus are a much harder target to hit than anyone would’ve expected. 

On the 2nd of November, 1932, the first offensive began. However, only a very few numbers of birds were killed due to an issue of range with the weapons. 

On the 4th of November, 2 days later, an ambush was planned near a dam. The offensive began wonderfully for the men, but then the gun jammed after killing only 12 birds! 

The remaining birds quickly scattered and no more were able to be captured or killed. 

The men observed that the birds would scatter into packs with one alpha bird watching out for the humans while the other birds would conduct raids on the crops. The alpha bird would notify the other birds to scatter in different directions when human soldiers were spotted with weapons. 

6 days after the beginning of the engagement, 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been fired. The amount of birds killed ranged from 50 to 500. 

Mounting a machine gun to the back of a truck was also attempted, but the birds still managed to escape and firing the weapon on a truck proved highly inaccurate and ineffective. 

Summarising the culls, ornithologist Dominic Serventy commented:

“The machine-gunners' dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.[13]

On the 8th of November, the military and weapons were withdrawn following negative media coverage of the events that had transpired. 

The media claimed that “only a few emus” had been killed, when in reality the number was closer to 300- still a rather low amount considering the intelligence and tech mankind should possess over these emus. 

Following the withdrawal of the military, the emu attacks on crops continued and fiercely so. 

The farmers once again called for military and government support. They mentioned that hot weather and drought were also exacerbating the issue, causing thousands of emus to take part in the raids in the birds’ desperate attempts to get food and water. 

A new offensive was launched on November 13th, and this time around it was much more successful, killing an estimated 986 emus with 9,860 rounds, a kill rate of about 10 rounds per kill over the course of about a month. 

Regardless, the military was still far less effective than hoped for. Words of the “Great Emu War” spread across the world. Many wondered how it could be possible for a military offensive against large birds to be so ineffective. 

The farmers would request military & government assistance again in 1934, 1943, and 1948, only to be turned down. 

Instead, a bounty system was instigated, which was much more effective: 57,034 bounties were claimed across a 6-month period in the year 1934.

Developments in exclusion barrier fencing in 1930 and onwards became more widespread and quite effective in keeping out wildlife from agricultural crops and farmland. 

While wildlife and pest control may seem like a simple matter, it is often not the case. You can’t just grab a machine gun and handle the situation.

Wildlife & pests are smarter than you might think, and advanced technology may be required to properly keep the wild critters out for good. 

Wildlife & pest infestation can cause severe damages to your home, health, and family. It gets worse with time, so it’s best to handle the situation ASAP or work to prevent it before it happens. 

If you think you have a wildlife or pest infestation, or would like a free inspection report, please give us a call at 855-WILDLIFE or visit for more information. 

-Wildlife x Team International 

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