23 Jan 2012

Emu Farming and India

I have followed with interest (and some trepidation) the media coverage of commercial Emu farming that is gaining popularity around the country. The volume of information obtained by an internet search on the subject is indicative of the marketing activities focused at luring farmers to easy money.

Over the past couple of days I have also searched the internet, albeit without success, for endorsements and environmental clearances from appropriate Government departments on Emu-farming. I am left wondering whether appropriate ecological impact analysis was carried out before Emu-farming was commercially introduced into the country.  

This brings forth my nagging fear about the bird going feral in the Indian hinterland. The Emu is an exotic species without any natural predators in our ecosystem. Accidental or intentional release of mating pairs of these birds in the wild could establish a feral population in the wild. They would ravage crops and fruits, as well as populations of indigenous insects and small amphibians, already reeling under the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

I have blogged in the past on the environmental and economic impact of invasive species. We are acutely aware of the detrimental environmental, health and economic impact of invasive species such as Parthenium and Lantana in our country. Nations across the globe also bear the economic burden of managing feral animal populations. In Australia in particular, rabbits to camels (and many animals in-between) have been released from livestock into the wild by early settlers - out of love or ignorance. Exploding populations of these feral animals have necessitated allocation of large government funds for pest management. While contributing to the national GNP and creating exotic professions such as feral boar-hunting, such funds could definitely be put to better use elsewhere in the economy. Emus have been known feral culprits in the Australian outback, necessitating culling on war footing.

There are thriving Emu farms in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Emu meat reportedly sells at around Rs.450/= per kg in Bangalore, way above the price of the pale poultry. Manifestos have been written on the virtues of the fat-free Emu meat. It is also claimed that almost every part of an Emu can be commercialised, creating a lucrative picture for Emu-farming to the debt-ridden Indian farmer, currently contemplating a rope from the branch of the nearest tree.

But do we have the capability (and appetite) of controlling this (and other) alien species ? The glimmer of my hope lies squarely on the hungry millions in India, capable of decimating any avian population, feral or otherwise. Though bigger than a goat, an Emu is a bird, nonetheless. The flight fancy of the flightless wonder might well remain unrealized in India.

That is, if the animal rights brigade doesn’t clamour a prohibition to such jolly hunting and feasting !

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