Monday, July 28, 2008

Maine and the Ostrich

Imagine my surprise when I came across this wild story on the Creature Chronicles website. It's from 1997, and follows the escapades of a rogue ostrich or emu in Maine!

Associated Press, 06/26/97 13:23

BENTON, Maine (AP) -- It weighs 200 pounds, is more than 5 feet tall, has sharp claws, a long neck and can run 30 mph. And a state veterinarian says the big bird that remained at large Thursday should be considered dangerous.

"We have a stray ostrich ? or an emu ? we're trying to find. It's still out there, and we're not having any luck,'' said Paula Mitchell of the Waterville Area Humane Society. "The poor thing is still running around.''

Mitchell said the big, flightless bird was last sighted Thursday in Winslow in central Maine.

Rodney Blaisdell of Benton received a gash in the hand when he tried to catch it barehanded. Fourteen stitches were required to close the wound after his encounter Tuesday.

"I grabbed that bird around the neck and he just started putting the feet to me,'' said Blaisdell, adding that he bled so much from the wound that he almost passed out.

Several people have reported seeing the mystery bird, and some have gotten close to it during the past few days, officials said.

On Monday, two boys who roped the bird found out it wasn't going to be captured without a fight.

"He didn't enjoy the rope, but when he hit the electric fence he went berserk,'' said Christine Bessey, dog catcher for the Benton?Albion area.

"I'm tired of chasing that thing. We'll find the owner, and when we do, the owner can chase him,'' said Bessey.

According to Blaisdell, the bird apparently got loose Sunday as it was being transported in the back of the pickup truck of a Brooks man who had bought the bird from someone in Clinton.

Chip Ridky, a state veterinarian, said that the last time an emu got loose he had to fire four or five tranquilizer darts at it, and finally had to pounce on it to bring it down.

Mitchell said she knows of some central Maine residents who own ostriches and emus, but she believes the loose bird is an emu.
Digging a little further, I found some historic Maine ostrich dealing way back in 1883!
Importation of Ostriches
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 10. -- The Austrian bark Josip, Giurieevich master, arrived yesterday from Cape Town, South Africa. She left Cape Town Oct. 15, and as part of her freight had 23 ostriches, all of which reached here alive, with Mr. E. J. Johnson, of Maine, Agent of the American Ostrich Company, a corporation organized under the laws of Maine.

Mr. Johnson said he had gone to South Africa about a year ago for the purpose of purchasing ostriches for the company. He traveled into the interior 400 miles from Cape Town, in the Boer country, where the ostrich farms exist. Fine birds cost from 250 pounds to 300 pounds per pair. As many as 50 feathers a year are to be obtained from each bird, and as the plumes sell from $5 to $12 apiece in this country, there is considerable profit in the business. By importing the birds, the duty of 20 per cent. on the feathers is avoided.

The problem to be solved is to rear the young birds in this country, and the experiment is being tried in California. The American Ostrich Company have a farm at San Diego, Cal., and thence the birds in Mr. Johnson's care will shortly be taken.
-- New York Times, December 11, 1883, page 2
On page 147 of Kate Field's Visit to San Diego by the San Diego Historical Society, viewable as a PDF here, there is an 1888 photograph of a man with several healthy looking ostrich specimens, perhaps some of the same that came to the U.S. on the Josip five years previous.

Forty-three years later, in a 1926 report by Berthold Laufer, Curator of Anthropology at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, (Ostrich Egg-shell Cups of Mesopotamia and the Ostrich in Ancient and Modern Times, viewable by clicking here), it is observed that the ostriches seem to have continued in the healthiest vein possible:
At the same time [1882] the American Ostrich Company was organized in Maine with E. J. Johnson as manager. He went to Africa and spent there a year, studying the habits and management of the birds. He started with twenty-three of them and landed at New Orleans in December, 1884, after a voyage of fifty-three days, with all the birds alive, a remarkable result, as the usual loss at sea is about 25 per cent.

He settled in the valley of the San Luis Rey, about seven miles from the town of Fallbrook, north of San Diego, in southern California. The clear, dry air, the excellent water, and the shelter afforded by the Santa Rosa hills furnished suitable con-
ditions for the establishment of an ostrich farm. The birds took kindly to their adopted home, and have thriven well, the old ones maintaining their natural vigor, and the American-born being at two years unusually fine, both in size and quality of feathers.
Mainers do tend to wind up doing lots of interesting things...

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