Listing of the Coastal Emu as an Endangered Population in 2002 raised hopes that extra protection would be provided, thus halting, or preferably reversing, their steadily declining numbers. Sadly it was not. The 2017 census recorded just 33 birds, down from 47 a year earlier.
The census records more than bird sightings, and includes feathers, tracks, and scats. Of course not all birds are located, but numbers have likely reached the point where the population is no longer viable.
Emus face many threats. Wild dogs, dingoes, feral cats and foxes, all pose a real threat to chicks and juveniles, while feral pigs are suspected of raiding nests and eating their eggs.
Humans pose an even greater threat, with vehicle strike historically taking an enormous toll, something authorities will not take seriously. An example of that negligence was the decision to increase the speed limit to 100km/hour along Iluka Road through Bundjalung National Park, and a refusal to reduce speed limits on Brooms Head and Wooli Roads.
Another human threat is the proliferation of tightly strung barbed wire fences, often 5 strands or more, that restrict Emu movement and can prove lethal if, when spooked by a predator, they run headlong into them. Many of these 'super-tight' fences are being installed along the highway upgrade, which passes directly through some 60km of the Emu's home range. The RMS washes its hands, claiming they have to provide what landowners request.
Emus breed in late winter, early spring, just when the authorities recommend everyone burn off, and every year, these fires 'escape' and cause havoc, giving an Emu chick little chance of escaping the flames.
There has been pig trapping, and dog baiting, and work using a trained tracker dog, aiming to locate nests so that surveillance can occur to determine why so few chicks are surviving. But with only 20 breeding pairs remaining, and nesting every second year, finding any of those 10 nests across more than 3,000 square kilometres, is improbable.
With no on-ground action to protect Emus, not even a plan, are we just monitoring another extinction event?
- John Edwards