Humans, Armed with Rifles, Still Lost the Great Emu War of 1932

The taunt “bird brain” is unwarranted because even the dumbest of birds, the emu outsmarted Australian soldiers in The Great Emu War of 1932.

[DIGEST: WorldHistory, IFLS, SciAm, EmuFacts, EKU, McGill, Aruba]

In the winter of 1932, Olympic athletes competed in Lake Placid, New York. In England, Agatha Christie published her 12th mystery, Peril at End House. In Asia, the “January 28 Incident” sparked a short war over the city of Shanghai between Japan and China. And farther to the south, in Australia, the Great Emu War broke out.

Yes, weird as it sounds, there was a war on the very creatures that inspired Sesame Street’s Big Bird. And the humans lost. There were casualties on both sides, but despite being heavily armed with rifles, humanity lost this fight. 

After the First World War, many Australian soldiers shifted back into their jobs as farmers.  Following the Great Depression in 1929, the price of wheat tumbled. Then the wheat economy was disrupted in an unusual way. By 1932, about 20,000 emus stormed into the region as part of their breeding season activities. Finding the waterlogged agricultural lands of Western Australia particularly appealing, they rapidly set up shop, stealing as many of the crops as they could and causing pandemonium.

An adult emu will eat about a pound and a half of feed per day. This means 20,000 emus can eat a wheat field the size of New York City in just under three weeks.

Credit: Source.

The Australian Minister of Defense gave the former soldiers access to Lewis machine guns and plenty of ammunition, along with some top brass military guidance from Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery. The war to run off the emus began in earnest in November of 1932 after a wet fall. All indications pointed to an easy human victory. But the emu outran and outsmarted the soldiers.

Contrary to popular belief, many birds are not actually “bird brained.” Recent research from Eastern Kentucky University suggests that birds can be quite intelligent. There have been many sightings of fly-fishing herons catching insects and laying them on the water’s surface to attract fish. Gulls frequently drop shells onto rocks to break them and small tits in

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