Good news, Alaskans: Your emus are legal now

An emu in profile
An emu in 2016. (Creative Commons photo by Mathias Appel)

Emus are pretty exceptional birds.

Averaging almost six feet tall, they’re the second tallest bird in the world, only after ostriches. They weigh more than 100 pounds, and they can’t fly.

But, like more conventional chickens and turkeys, they’re also considered poultry. They’re harvested for meat, leather and oil. And as of this summer, they’re considered legal livestock in the state of Alaska, thanks to an Anchor Point man named Pike Ainsworth.

Ainsworth was inspired to raise emus in Alaska after learning about emu farmers in Maine and British Columbia. He ordered some eggs and managed to hatch one.

“It was really neat,” he said. “ It grows so fast. It’s a really cool little creature.”

Then, he discovered emus weren’t on the Clean List — a register of livestock allowed in the state without a permit. He started working to get emus on that list in 2019.

But it wasn’t so easy. Ainsworth said he encountered resistance from the Board of Game, the authority that greenlights what animals go on the Clean List. Board of Game Executive Director Kristy Tibbles said the board only addresses the Clean List every three years, and they weren’t set to do so until 2021. That meeting was ultimately delayed until the spring of 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ainsworth submitted an agenda change request to bring his proposal before the board earlier, but it was denied. Tibbles said it did not meet the board’s criteria for an out-of-cycle request.

Finally, in March of this year, Ainsworth was able to make his case before the board. At the meeting, he testified about the condition of food security in Alaska.

“Food security is an extremely serious issue, especially now during wartime and COVID-19, stores have been consistently out of food, the price of meat has skyrocketed, making red meat unattainable to most Alaskans,” he said. “I have a proposal. I’d like to add emu to the Clean List.”

He told the board emu meat is more nutritious than beef, that it is eaten by extreme athletes as fuel and that the birds put less of a strain on the land than other livestock. He also said emus require little feed and water and grow quickly.

“Emu can be hatched from an egg and be ready to market in six months,” he said.

Ryan Scott, an assistant director at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the board needed time to review Ainsworth’s proposal because birds often carry a slew of diseases. However, they looked into it, and he said there didn’t appear to be any issues.

“We would anticipate very little impact on Alaska’s indigenous species,” he told the board at its deliberation on Ainsworth’s proposal, three days after his testimony. The state veterinarian didn’t have any concerns, either. Scott noted that emus are not under any threat of becoming endangered.

The proposal passed unanimously, and went into effect July 1.

Since then, Ainsworth said he’s had several farmers thank him for getting emus on the Clean List, allowing them to raise their birds without fear of retribution. He said on top of the health and food security benefits, emus just make great pets.“They’re really a bonding animal, almost like a dog,” Ainsworth said. “They’re so loving, they’re not dangerous creatures.”

Ainsworth currently has two emus and plans on getting more. He also designed a geodesic dome to house his birds without heat in the winter, made of concrete with air bubbles that provides insulation. He shares that design, and his knowledge about raising emu, with others who are interested.

KDLL - Kenai

KDLL is our partner station in Kenai. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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