Our first emus arrived at the San Diego Zoo in 1925. In 1935, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst loaned us a pair of emus from his private zoo. That pair produced the first emu eggs at our facility. But we soon discovered that the emu egg-laying cycle is during winter for us but summer for these Australian birds. The eggs needed artificial incubation then hand-rearing if they were to hatch and survive. Over the years, exhibit conditions for the birds improved; in 1945, a male emu incubated his eggs and cared for his chicks. Between 1948 and 1976, more than 1,000 emus were raised at the Zoo and shipped to zoos all over the world.
In 1978, an emu hatched in the Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center became an ambassador for her species. Named Daphne, she had a long career on stage and screen, appearing on countless television talk shows, meeting scores of celebrities, and participating in Zoo animal shows and presentations with guests. She even “painted” with her feet, her art sold to raise money for local wildlife rehabilitation efforts. It wasn’t until the emu matured that her trainers realized "she" was a “he.” Daphne was our star until his passing in 2012.
At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an emu named Max delighted audiences at daily bird shows for many years. He had one trained skill: walking back and forth across the stage from one trainer to the other. That’s all he did, but he did it with aplomb!
San Diego Zoo Global does not currently have emus in its collection.
The emu subspecies that lived in Tasmania became extinct around 1865, following the arrival of Europeans. The Australian mainland subspecies’ distribution continues to be affected by human activities. Once quite common on Australia's east coast, rapid human population growth forced the emu out of this area. Agricultural development and water provided for livestock in Australia’s Outback have given the emu new regions to live in that were once too dry for its survival.
While the emu population is currently considered stable, drought and wildfires are potential threats that could impact them. Many people raise emus for their meat, oil, and leather.
You can help us bring bird species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.