Orange County

How do you catch an emu? An ex-animal control director shares how it was done before.

County officials might be having trouble catching a big Australian bird roaming around the Orange-Chatham county line, but it’s not the first time.

John Sauls, former director of Animal Control in both counties, sent The News & Observer a letter about three times his officers dealt with emus in Orange County from 1994 to 2005.

Officers had to tackle one bird and shoot another they couldn’t catch when the northern Orange County landowner demanded “we get rid of it,” Sauls wrote.

Another time a livestock trailer fell over on Interstate 40, spilling 20 emus onto the side of the highway.

“I was reading about the report [on the latter incident] and it just scared me to death,” Sauls recalled in an interview Monday.

The call came in on a Sunday afternoon after the accident happened just west of Durham Chapel Hill Boulevard, he wrote in the letter.

“Somehow, our responding on-call officer, Betsy, the truck driver and law enforcement were able to contain the emus against the fence while Durham City response workers righted the trailer,” Sauls wrote. “They then simply retrailered them, one by one.”

Capturing an emu

Animal Control officers are not actively patrolling for the lost emu, relying on people to call the county if they see the 5-foot bird.

But even when the emu is found, catching it won’t be easy. Sauls said capturing any animal that can outrun you means that “you get lucky.”

He said the classic way to catch and calm a bird is to throw a blanket over its head.

In the case of the emu that his officers tackled, one officer was lucky he didn’t get hurt.

“A caller phoned in the emu’s location and it wasn’t long before Julian (the officer) and another officer arrived and spotted her,” he said.

“They had catch poles and tried to corner her. She then tried to bolt past Julian, and he tackled her from her side and was thus able to avoid her deadly kick.”

You can read John Sauls’ full letter here:

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Trent Brown covers the Town of Cary and other odds and ends. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2019 and is a Collegiate Network fellow.