Officers closing in on Orange County emu, asking public to steer clear of big bird

Bob Marotto, Orange County’s Animal Services director, says his officers are closing on the emu that has eluded them most of the summer.

Now, he says, they just need the public to steer clear and let them do their job.

Eno Emu, as the big bird’s 5,000 Facebook friends call it, was first reported roaming the Orange-Chatham County line in late June.

After numerous sightings and at least near miss, Marotto told The News & Observer last week the new strategy was to lure Eno — they don’t know if it’s male or female — with pieces of apple, grapes, mealworms and dog biscuits.

Orange County updated social media on Monday morning with a picture of Eno beside food and water. They said the bird is settling down in a specific area and are hopeful they can safely capture it.

Orange County Orange County

As “Eno” gains social-media followers, international headlines and even stars in a new Orange County tourism ad, Marotto says he’s trying to keep the bird’s safety in mind.

“I hope your pencil is sharp,” he said when asked whom Animal Services has contacted for advice. “It’s not like calling your local dog behaviorist when you have an errant emu.”

The county has reached out to Cooperative Extension, the state and U.S. departments of agriculture, the American Emu Association and the North Carolina Zoo. The zoo doesn’t have emus — just ostriches, which are bigger, faster and live in Africa. But close enough.

No one has reported losing a 5-foot tall, 100-pound flightless bird, and Animal Services doesn’t know where it came from.

But they want to safely capture the emu before it gets hurt or hurts someone. The bird has powerful legs with sharp talons.

The officers don’t want to chase the bird, which can run 30 mph and recently left them in the dust. A tranquilizer gun is probably out too, Marotto explained, because the bird’s feathers cover its muscles.

“There are also concerns about the bird’s sensitivity to chemical immobilization,” he added.

Emu ad campaign

While the bird native to Australia remains at-large, some are capitalizing on the county’s new unofficial mascot.

An outline of the emu is the star of a new marketing campaign of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

“People are fascinated, and we are too,” said Laurie Paolicelli, director of the bureau.

The bureau worked with Clean, a Raleigh-based design and advertising agency, on a slide show for the bureau’s social media sites tied to its “Just Do You” campaign.

Research shows people come to Chapel Hill and Orange County to relax and for its welcoming, inclusive environment, Paolicelli said.

“To just be whoever you are,” she said. “Even if you’re an emu.”

In the ad, the bird’s outline accompanies the words “Have you seen this emu?” alongside images of bicyclists in rural Orange, the Carolina Inn on the UNC campus and the Weaver Street Market lawn in Carrboro.

“It’s sweet,” Paolicelli said. “It’s a fun vibe.”

Meanwhile, the proximity of “Eno” to the Eno River, which inspired the bird’s name, has made the bird feathered fodder for The Expedition School in Hillsborough.

The charter school focuses children on “real world problems and challenges,” according to a news release.

“This fun, local phenomenon of an emu on the run was a great opportunity to engage the natural curiosity of our kindergartners,” teacher Trevia Woods said in the release. “We’ve been reading fun books about emus, learning natural science in a hands-on way, and engaging the critical thinking skills and imaginations of these sure-to-be future detectives.”

If you spot an emu

For all the fun and learning, Marotto repeated that people should not approach the bird. Even someone recording the bird from a car recently was enough to scare it back into the woods, he said.

“We have learned a lot about the natural proclivities of emus, and some of the things we might do are counterproductive,” Marotto said.

In three days, according to various sightings, the bird covered 11 miles, he said. For now, animal control is using food to try to keep it in the same general area.

And it may take time. In the past it has taken months to capture a loose Siberian husky and several cattle, Marotto said, and Eno’s proving trickier.

“It’s not like we have a pig at large [and can ask somebody,] ‘Can you help us with a pig?’” he said.

If you see the emu


Orange County Animal Services: 919-942-7387

Chatham County Animal Services: 919-542-7203

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Mark Schultz is the deputy metro editor for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He has been an editor, reporter and photographer in North Carolina for 30 years.