Thursday, 14 August 2008

The Tasmanian Emu

There are not many signs left today of the extinct subspecies known as the Tasmanian Emu. The official Hobart coat of arms has a Tasmanian Emu and a Forester Kangaroo. While these arms were not granted until 1953, the emu was also used on the unofficial coats of arms as far back as the 1850's at which time it was still extant. The Emu is also remembered in place names such as the Emu River and Emu Bay (now Burnie). At Devonport you can see an aboriginal rock engraving of an emu.

The Tasmanian Emu (Dromalus novaehollandiae diemenensis) was a subspecies of the Emu found on the Australian mainland. Of course, some will debate that the Tasmanian Emu was no different to the mainland emu while other would have given it the rank of species. The problem is, there is just so little in the way of records or preserved specimens on which to make a detailed study. There are said to be only 2 surviving skins in the British Museum as well as a near complete skeleton that was found in a cave near Mole Creek 1974.

The Tasmanian Emus were said to be only slightly smaller than their mainland cousins although even this has been debated. (Do not confuse them with the even smaller King Island Emu which was considered a separate species). It was also said to be darker although lacking the black neck feathers of the mainland emu. Some say it was once a common bird while others say it was never common. Whatever the case, it coexisted with our first Tasmanians for eons. They were found in areas of open forests and grasslands along the east and north coast.

European settlement from 1802 soon changed the status quo. The early settlers hunted the emu for it's meat. At Port Arthur, emus were also used to feed the convicts. This hunting along the wide scale land clearing and burning soon drove the Tasmanian Emu toward extinction.

The British Museum received a specimen 1828. James Garrett, Presbyterian minister and Naturalist had in his collection a Tasmanian Emu killed near Bothwell in 1832. In the 1850's, one was shot on the lawn at Highfield House in Stanley. The last record for a wild bird was in 1865. They survived in captivity until 1873.

Mainland Emus were released on Maria Island in 1968. Although it is in fact the same species with just slight, superficial differences, The Parks and Wildlife service list it as an introduced species alongside House sparrows and Starlings.

Aboriginal Rock Art depicting an Emu - Devonport, Tasmania

Emu at Wings Wildlife Park, Gunns Plains

Emu at Wings Wildlife Park, Gunns Plains

  • Flightless Birds - Clive Roots, 2008 - Greenwood Press Fall
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography - Julie Carington Smith - 1966 , Melbourne University Press
  • Birds of Tasmania - R. H. Green - 1977 - Mary Fsher Bookshop
  • Tasmanian Birds - Michael Sharland - 1958 - Halstead Press
  • Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service Website - 2008


  1. An all to familiar srory Mosura. Poor old Emu.

  2. G'day Mosura,
    Great article, well researched. You didn't get a pic though!?
    PS: Loved that Kelp Gull pic in 'Three Gulls'.

  3. Hello Mosura

    Your posts are always SO informative...and this one is no different. Isn't it just typical - when you ask 25 people the same question you get 25 different answers!!! Love the aboriginal picture.

    Best wishes, Adrian

  4. Thanks Warren - Yes that's so true unfortunately.

    Thanks Gouldiae - I reckon there must be a painting or sketch of one somewhere but I can't find one.

    Thanks Adrian - I like the aboriginal engraving too. It's a pitty the head is a bit worn out. There are a load of engravings at that site but most are just symbols like concentric circles etc. That's the only one that is actually a picture of something recognisable.

  5. I have found an article in The Mercury, dated 22 July 1878, about an emu which Thomas Nevin kept in the paddock behind the Hobart Town Hall. He was a photographer, and keeper of the Town Hall at the time. The emu died by strangling itself on the fence. Nevin said he would donate it to the Royal Society's museum. DO YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW IF HE DID, OR IF SO, do they still have it???
    See the article at: (leave a comment)

    May we as publishers of Nevin's weblog "borrow" some of you info about the emu in Tas at that time?? Many thanks.
    Nevin publishers.