Emus haven’t been seen in Tasmania in almost 200 years, but new research out of UTAS suggests that reintroduction could have a positive impact on the state’s ecosystem.
Research Associate Tristan Derham has been studying the native animals, and the possibility of rewilding them – that is, bringing the species back to live in Tasmania once more, for the benefit of our environment and culture.
Emus roamed the state for tens of thousands of years, until settlers arrived in 1803, and started hunting them for food.
“Settlers hunted kangaroos and emus using purpose-bred dogs, and they were very effective,” Mr Derham explained. “And they basically wiped out the emu population, and almost wiped out the forester kangaroo population here in Tasmania.”
He says that bringing emus back into the state could help native plants cope with climate change. As conditions change, plants need to migrate to different areas, and the birds can assist.
“Emus are really important seed dispersers. They don’t chew seeds, the seeds often pass throught their gut and then they’re deposited in emu poop, which is basically like a couple of handfuls of compost filled with seeds, and that gives seedlings a really good start.”
His reseach revealing that Tassie still has plenty of land that could be appropriate emu habitat.
“There’s an opportunity here for Tasmania to have an iconic animal back in its ecosystem. And in some respects, it wouldn’t be to difficult. We could start with trial releases within very big enclosures just to see how emus would fare in the Tassie environment today, and which animals and plants they would interact with.”
But as to whether it will ever happen, Mr Derham says that’s up to the community: “Do they want to come across an emu father with its little striped chicks running around, fading into the background? Or do they want to continue with an emu-shaped hole in Tasmania’s ecosystem?”