The Great Emu War: In 1932 Australia Waged War Against Wild Emus and Lost

A case of wildlife management gone wrong occurred in 1932 when the Australian government tried to control the increasingly concerning growing numbers of wild emus in the Western outback. What would later become known as the Great Emu War involved battles between the Royal Australian Artillery and 20,000 wild emus over the course of a one-month period of time.

This probably isn’t something you learned about in your eight-grade history class.

It all started after World War I when veteran soldiers were encouraged to help cultivate the farming industry in Western Australia. When the Great Depression hit they were promised subsidies for high-yielding return on crops.

Unfortunately Western Australia farmland is rough, to put it mildly, and the crops became even more endangered by the ever-increasing influx of emus.

The farmland taken over by the former soldiers happened to be in the mating migration path of the emu population—which numbered about 20,000 or more.

In an effort to deal with population control, the soldiers asked, and were granted, machine guns and the artillery means to enter into full out combat against the emus.

Not only were the guns and troop transportation organized by the Australian government, but they also paid for ammunition, food and accommodations—just like they would for any other kind of warfare.

The large flightless birds were hunted down over the weeks from November 2, 1932 until about the 10th of December of that same year, with bounty rewards being offered for their slaughter.

An estimated 2,500 birds were killed during the campaign, however they were extremely resilliant even against trained machine gunners.

When news of the cull reached other countries, concerned conservationists contemned the extermination, and despite the military efforts the emus continued their rampage of the lands anyway. Major G.P.W. Meredith, who led the campaign, soon realized that it took on average 10 bullets to ever slain bird and the attacks were deemed too expensive to continue. The government withdrew from the effort, which technically counts toward an emu victory.

The emu is no considered an animal of protected status in the country.