As NC emu remains at-large, bird stars in ad campaign and becomes a teachable moment

News & Observer |

--CHAPEL HILL -- Bob Marotto, Orange County's Animal Services director, is Facebook friends with Eno Emu.

Eno Emu, who boasts 5,000 Facebook friends, is a fictionalized version of the real big bird his officers have been trying to catch this summer.

But as "Eno" gains social-media followers, international headlines and even stars in a new Orange County tourism ad, Marotto says he's also trying to keep the bird's safety in mind.

The county has reached out to Cooperative Extension, the state and U.S. departments of agriculture, the American Emu Association and the North Carolina Zoo. The zoo doesn't have emus -- just ostriches, which are bigger, faster and live in Africa. But close enough.

"I hope your pencil is sharp," Marotto said Wednesday when asked whom Animal Services has contacted. "It's not like calling your local dog behaviorist when you have an errant emu."

The 5-foot, 100-pound flightless bird was first reported near the Orange-Chatham county line in late June. No one has reported losing an emu, and Animal Services doesn't know where it came from.

But they want to find the bird before it gets hurt or hurts someone. The bird has powerful legs with sharp talons.

It was last reported Tuesday on Eubanks Road in northern Chapel Hill, just down the street from the county animal shelter. Officers put out food, but didn't see it.

After talking with experts, Marotto says the new strategy is to lure Eno -- they don't know if it's male or female -- with pieces of apple, grapes, mealworms and dog biscuits.

The officers don't want to chase the bird, which can run 30 mph and recently left them in the dust. A tranquilizer gun is probably out too, Marotto explained, because the bird's feathers cover its muscles.

"There are also concerns about the bird's sensitivity to chemical immobilization," he added.

Emu ad campaign

While the bird that's typically found in Australia remains at-large somewhere in North Carolina, some are capitalizing on the county's new unofficial mascot.

As of Tuesday, an outline of the emu is the star of a new ad campaign for the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

"People are fascinated, and we are too," said Laurie Paolicelli, director of the bureau.

The bureau worked with Clean, a Raleigh-based design and advertising agency, on a slide show for the bureau's social media sites tied to its "Just Do You" campaign.

Research shows people come to Chapel Hill and Orange County to relax and for its welcoming, inclusive environment, Paolicelli said.

"To just be whoever you are," she said. "Even if you're an emu."

In the ad, the bird's outline accompanies the words "Have you seen this emu?" alongside images of bicyclists in rural Orange, the Carolina Inn on the UNC campus and the Weaver Street Market lawn in Carrboro.

"It's sweet," Paolicelli said. "It's a fun vibe."

Meanwhile, the proximity of "Eno" to the Eno River, which inspired the bird's name, has made the bird feathered fodder for The Expedition School in Hillsborough.

The charter school focuses children on "real world problems and challenges," according to a news release.

"This fun, local phenomenon of an emu on the run was a great opportunity to engage the natural curiosity of our kindergartners," teacher Trevia Woods said in the release. "We've been reading fun books about emus, learning natural science in a hands-on way, and engaging the critical thinking skills and imaginations of these sure-to-be future detectives."

If you spot an emu

For all the fun and learning, Marotto wants to stress that people should not approach the bird. Even someone recording the bird from a car recently was enough to scare it back into the woods, he said.

"We have learned a lot about the natural proclivities of emus, and some of the things we might do are counterproductive," Marotto said.

In three days, according to various sightings, the bird covered 11 miles, he said. For now, animal control is using food to try to keep it in the same general area.

And it may take time. In the past it has taken months to capture a loose Siberian husky and several cattle, Marotto said, and Eno's proving trickier.

"It's not like we have a pig at large [and can ask somebody,] 'Can you help us with a pig?'" he said.

If you see the emu


-- Orange County Animal Services: 919-942-7387

-- Chatham County Animal Services: 919-542-7203


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