Ratites are flightless birds. The African ostrich is the largest; second, the Australian emu. Both farmed (born to be killed) here in India mainly for their meat and oil.

Internationally, farming of ratites has never resulted in expected returns and the industry has been rife with monetary scams in a few countries. The sufferers have been the emus, ostriches – and humans. The lure of easy money is irresistible and scant thought is given to the fact that the birds are bred to be killed.

The projected hype about such ventures fast spread in India. BWC hopes that in another decade there will be hardly any so-called farms left – just like the majority of emu farms closed in Australia – due of financial loss and hazards.

BWC is relieved to see the beginning of the end of emu farms in India. By 2013 emu farming was no longer a favoured “get rich quick” scheme. There were no takers for the birds – live or dead – or their eggs. Unfortunately, thousands of birds continued to be abandoned in different parts of the country. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat had begun experiencing it.

Emu Farming
Emu farming was started decades back by an individual in Andhra Pradesh. It has spread to and mostly failed in Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Pondicherry, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Uttarkhand and Rajasthan.

“Farming” is actually breeding these birds to kill for meat and merchandise. The normal life span of an emu is 25-30 years. They are slaughtered for meat and other body parts at 12-15 months.

In 2012 it was estimated that there were 8,000 emu farmers in India, but no official records to prove the claim then, or even earlier. In 2011 it had been estimated that there were more than 5,000 emu farms in India and that their numbers were increasing. Of these around 1,400 were in Andhra Pradesh and 500 in Tamil Nadu. Farmers with as little as 10,000 sq feet to spare were being wooed because the area could accommodate 70 to 100 birds. The total number of ratites in India were said to be around 1 million with Krishna Guntur and West Godavari districts having 40%.

It was also reported that the country’s first emu processing unit called Vileena Emu Processing Pvt Ltd would begin slaughtering in April 2012 at Nuziveedu, Krishna District, AP – with the blessings of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairy and Fisheries and with backend subsidy from either National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) Venture Capital Fund or through the Establishment and Modernisation of Slaughterhouse Scheme. The unit, spread over 22 acres, would have an installed processing capacity is 300 birds per day. Farmers would be given Rs 12,600/- per bird and the meat would be sold for Rs 800/- per kg. In August 2012, upon hearing of the total collapse of the majority of emu farms in Tamil Nadu, BWC immediately wrote to NABARD requesting that if they had already sanctioned a subsidy to this unit, to review it and cancel support since people were getting duped, were unable to repay loans and had gone underground after abandoning the birds.

Meanwhile, let’s hope NABARD removes from its website all fabricated and grossly exaggerated estimates fast – according to officials a pair of birds can earn up to Rs 16 lakhs in a year – the projection is said to be based on unverified information taken from a paper presented by an executive of a French company at a 1997 Indo-French food seminar in Bengaluru.

The Maharashtra Emu Farmers Association claims to have achieved a significant growth in breeding emus in the state and with 45,000 birds is second to Andhra Pradesh. Pune district has over 100 small commercial emu rearing farms, however due to lack of proper processing industries they are facing a stalemate. It is estimated that there are about 10,000 unwanted birds. Trying to sell them off on false promises of high returns has backfired time and again. For example, in March 2011, a thousand eggs were sold to a Nashik trader in the hope of earning at least Rs 15 lakhs, but the trader shut shop and disappeared! The hype is no longer working and there are no more takers for eggs or emus and people have suffered huge losses totally extending to around Rs 20 crore. In view of this in June 2011, BWC wrote to the Maharashtra State Animal Husbandry Commissioner not to regulate or encourage emu farming and send a directive to farmers to immediately stop breeding them. It later came to light that most districts like Raigad and Alibagh have no municipal abattoirs (mandatory place for animal slaughter) so the killing of emus on farms in these areas of Maharashtra turns out to be illegal. This was also conveyed to the Commissioner.

In March 2016 the Commissioner of Animal Husbandry, Maharashtra State, wrote to Beauty Without Cruelty that they were not promoting emu farming and any kind of funding or scheme related to it, but rescuing and rehabilitating the abandoned emus was not dealt with by the Animal Husbandry Department. An article that appeared in the Sunday Express soon after stated that 6 years earlier about 10,000 birds were found in the state, but farmers had exited this business since they found it unable to sustain. Thousands of emus were killed or abandoned in the forest. Of the 200 emus rescued by a NGO, half had already died due to a viral infection.

Kalpataru Emu Management & Products has claimed to be the sole supplier of emu products in India. 1 kg of emu meat costs Rs 350/- or more depending on the body part and if with or without bones (about 20 kgs of boneless meat = 1 bird carcass); and an emu egg which weighs up to 750 grams is sold for up to Rs 2,000/- or more; however, the main income is said to be derived from selling emu oil (15 litres from one killed bird but according to an officer of the Maharashtra State Animal Husbandry no one knows how to extract it!) which could fetch around Rs 6,000/- per litre. In fact 96% of the emu carcass is sold including feathers, bones, skin, nails, and egg-shells. New born chicks cost up to Rs 18,000/- each, but are usually sold for Rs 4,000/- to 7,000/- only.

As per a 2012 report, although there are 15-20 lakh emus in India, the main aim is to multiply the livestock so that 5 years down the line the demand created is met. Eggs are sold to new farmers @ Rs 1,000/- to Rs 1,800/-. The annual cost of rearing a pair of emus is around Rs 8,000/-. Egg-laying begins at one year and can continue till they are about 25 years – unless they are slaughtered earlier.

Emu meat is still seen as an oddity although it has been eaten to a small extent since the 1990s and its consumption has been gradually increasing since 2006 with its presence fast establishing in restaurants across the country – not only in Guntur and Patiala where it began – because it is being marketed as a low fat, high in iron and Vitamin B12 protein. For example, the Bhagirathi Hatcheries emu farm established in 2000 at Malegaon in Baramati, Maharashtra uses the well rehearsed line of “low on cholesterol, high on protein” to market this costliest of meats at hypermarkets in Mumbai. A chain of emu-meat based restaurants are planned to be opened in Gurgaon, Jaipur, Pondicherry and Bengaluru. The VC Emu farm in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu, established in 2007 with 5,000 birds and as many chicks, launched the first emu-only restaurant in 2010.

The Susi Emu Farms in Perunthurai, Erode, TN, claimed having learnt 23 varieties of emu dishes from Australian chefs. The Asian Emu Farm in Kovaipudur markets emu-rearing saying the meat sells for Rs 420/- a kg. To quote “It is very simple: we will supply you chicks and even the fodder. The shed will be constructed in your premises free of cost. You only need to feed the birds in the morning and evening. We charge very little security deposit, too.” As a result of which during the last two months of 2011 a dozen farms opened in Coimbatore. Added to this, another company planned on setting up a meat processing centre staffed by experts from Australia on a 100 acre plot in Sathyamangalam saying meat will be processed and packed off to hyper markets, while nails, skin and feathers will be used for products ranging from bags to medicines.

However, the Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Association say the meat is not as popular as projected. Prices of meat and eggs keep coming down due to lack of export opportunities and more establishments. It therefore came as no surprise when in March 2012 the front page of the Economic Times carried an alarming article on the so-called golden goose in Tamil Nadu: emus were being circular traded (usually a precursor of an eventual collapse) with every one selling birds to new farmers only. Ads on TV, the internet and pamphlets were touting emus as the ultimate in investment. Chicks were peddled in lots of 20 for Rs 2 lakh with the scheme’s promise (closely resembling the Ponzi rackets and Madoff or Abagnale scams of the past) of “tripling your money in five years”. All an investor was supposed to do was return the 20 pairs to the company promoting the scheme every year and take a new set.

As soon as the investment fraud came to light, in August 2012, most emu promoters abandoned thousands of birds and went underground – Susi (mentioned above), Queens, and Nidhi Emu Farms in Erode district, along with other smaller farms Suvi, NS Agro, Baby, TVS Emu and Alamu were confiscated by the state government with the idea of selling their assets to pay back investors. At some places birds were being slaughtered in order to give an impression that business was thriving, followed by the meat being forcefully sold to investors. In reality the birds began dying of starvation – surprisingly a district collector came to the rescue of Erode’s 8,000 abandoned emus by commissioning food supplies for them. The financial contagion fast spilled over to neighbouring districts of Salem, Namakkal and Tirupur – probably about 40,000 birds involved. The number of investors’ complaints against emu farms increased as did the appeals submitted to district administrations and the economic offences wing registered cases against some of them. Luckily the state’s District Collectorates saw sense and issued public warnings against emu farming falsely claiming to bring in quick high returns of 30%. This was soon followed by the Chief Minister directing the Police to take steps for attaching through courts the properties of firms that ran emu farms. Unfortunately the CM also asked the Animal Husbandry Department and the Namakkal Veterinary College to look after emu chicks for three months after which they should be sold so investors could be paid back – in other words, emu contract farming (breeding, raising and killing) did not look like coming to end right away despite a non-existent market.

Meat of these emus (and from other states’ farms) suddenly begun showing up in city restaurants across India even though most chefs complained that the more it is cooked the more it toughens and the only way they can easily serve it is minced – luckily it is not going to become a rage as expected. In Mumbai it was being peddled by Emu India Agro Pvt Ltd who offered tie-ups to restaurants, their part being advertising the so-called health benefits of the meat.

Some animal welfare persons suggested that the abandoned emus be euthanized – a suggestion no animal rights organisation, including BWC, would approve of. May be the Animal Husbandry Department should undertake some damage control by looking into the feasibility of supplying them as “security guards” so that they can complete their life spans and not land up as meat on people’s plates. The crucial point is that Tamil Nadu should ban (better late than never) emu farming and based on their experience, other states should follow suit.

However, the fraud hit industry intensified in the North with the birds being moved to other states. In Punjab as many as 1,50,000 birds were sold in six months. In Uttarkhand farms began materialising daily. Animal activists of the area suggested that under Sections 39 and 44 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, a license must be sought from the Chief Wildlife Warden in order to breed emus. Moreover no license for slaughtering them was given any where which made slaughter illegal.

In May 2013 the Rajasthan University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences set up an experimental emu breeding farm at Bikaner. Promotional articles containing the same hype were released for circulation. Immediately, BWC wrote to the CM pointing out the failure in Tamil Nadu and requested that the project be immediately shut down. Our fears turned out true because in 2016 an emu was obviously abandoned and found wandering by villagers of Saperon ki Dhani on the outskirts of Jaipur. They took care of it for a fortnight during which time they couldn’t fathom out if the pakshi-janwar was a relative from a previous life! It was then rescued by a NGO.

In 2012 BWC had written to the Ministry of Environment & Forests suggesting an immediate directive be sent out to state governments to expose the hype surrounding these ventures, ensure that no more loans are given, urgently inform farmers to stop breeding and shut down emu farms. The Ministry of Agriculture could also be asked to help them in view of the fact that Newcastle Disease that affects emus worldwide results in entire flocks dropped dead but continues to spread to poultry.

In 2013, upon reading in the newspapers that an Inter-Ministerial Group led by an Additional Secretary from the Department of Financial Services, had been set up to recommend giving adequate powers to control and halt frauds pertaining to Chit Funds and Ponzi Schemes in India, Beauty Without Cruelty requested the Finance Minister to safeguard the interests of animals as well. We also drew the attention of the Minister of Corporate Affairs about Ponzi Schemes covering livestock – emus, and cattle too. In March 2014 the Government of India re-promulgated the Securities Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, which empowered the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to take action against such get-rich-quick fraudulent Ponzi schemes that promise unreasonable high returns. BWC immediately appraised the Chairman, SEBI that 80% farms in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Orissa had closed and thousands of emus had been abandoned. We requested that in view of the emu faming hype being projected in other states, SEBI take appropriate and swift action against all emu farms in India.

However, in August 2016, SEBI told the Supreme Court that banned Ponzi schemes do not fall under its regulatory purview and only the state governments concerned can control them under the Chit Fund and Money Circulation (Banning) Act 1978. Furthermore, SEBI said banned activities cannot be regulated by any regulator or be stopped by them. But since Collective Investment Schemes fall under SEBI jurisdiction, if unregistered, they can stop them. This was followed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) launching an online website Sachet www.sachet.rbi.org.in to curb Ponzi schemes at an early stage by sourcing information from individual whistleblowers or victims who need not worry about approaching the right authority because the regulator can be chosen on the website and if unsure the RBI will ascertain. The drawback is that the RBI runs the website but does not preside over the regulators and authorities responsible for taking necessary and prompt action.

Although no more Ponzi schemes for emus came to our notice, in 2019 a promoter of a private firm which had changed its name and turned into a public limited company (having 300 branches and 600 accounts in leading banks across India) that collected money from investors in rural areas promising high returns by providing them animals like goats, sheep and pigs, was denied bail by the Orissa High Court. The company was not registered with the RBI or SEBI and violated criminal laws and the Prize Chits & Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act.

Also in 2019, 3 persons from the Sangli-headquartered Maharashtra Agro India Pvt Ltd were arrested after farmers from across Maharashtra lodged very many cases against the poultry farm for having duped them of several crores of rupees on promises of rearing and buying back of Kadaknath chickens whose black coloured meat was sold @ Rs 900/- per kg and was popular in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

In 2013 an article published in The Indian Express “A promise yet to deliver” had clearly stated that emu farmers of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were struggling and 80% had reverted to growing crops after having been conned for years into believing they would make Rs 3 lakhs every year for 30 years. This amply proved that it was a promise that can, nor will, ever deliver. Another article around the same time said that unwanted emus were being abandoned in jungles.

Again in February 2014, the Times of India reported from Ahmedabad that “Emu farming in the state has mirrored the country in its decline and there are reasons galore for the losses”. Around the same time, in Visakhapatnam (Orissa) 2,000 emus were left to suffer, starve and die by a factory which went bankrupt.

Nevertheless, Meat Products of India, a Kerala state government undertaking, has plans on establishing a 100-bird farm at Koothattukulam. Meanwhile, the State Animal Husbandry Department is popularising emu farming and with the help of the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University farmers are being trained. And, the Kerala State Poultry Development Corporation is also studying the market before taking the plunge probably because the Central Poultry Development Organisation, Hessargatta, Karnataka sell emu stock. They all admit that demand for emu products is lacking and farmers who have learnt bitter lessons warn people not to go in for this business.

The Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Hengbung, near Kangpokpi, north of Imphal, Manipur, in 2010 began an experimental-training-cum-demonstration farm for rearing turkeys and emus with the aim of enhancing the income of farmers in the area. The project funded by ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) through an NGO called FEEDS (Foundation for Environment and Economic Development Services) has 200 turkeys and 80 emus. Turkeys are expected to pick up faster in this meat-eating region. In 2011 it was reported that poultry farmers of Punjab have begun breeding emus because it was cheaper than breeding chickens. Their main aim was to sell emu oil to the pharmaceutical industry since it is said to be the only known oil that can penetrate human skin.

As the demand for emu meat is low in India, it is claimed to be exported along with its oil for use in cosmetics (as a moisturiser, in body lotions, shampoos, soaps, eye creams, lip balms, etc.) and in medicines (as a pain-relieving balm and for treating burns) and its hide for use by the fashion industry to make jackets, coats, handbags, belts and wallets. Emu leather is also used for book-binding and as lining for boots and luggage.

Dark green in colour emu egg shells, as well as bones are utilised by Aboriginal craftsmen in Australia for making of expensive handicraft articles. Carved and painted emu eggs are show pieces and in some places carved ones are used as Vastu products.

Plucking out feathers from live emus (and ostriches) is painful and prior to it being done they are blind-folded and cruelly restrained. Emu feathers are cheaper than those of ostrich and used in the fashion, art & craft industries, such as for making of feather dusters, pads, fans, boas, apparel, accessories, masks and for finishing metals prior to painting. The feathers are some times dyed and the plain looking natural ones are used as fillings for pillows and mattresses. General Motors uses the feathers to polish the wheels of Cadillac cars.

Emu leg skin is made into inserts for pockets, watch-straps and belts. Toe nails are used in jewellery settings and worn as lucky charms and trinkets.

The centre toes of emus are amputated (often without anaesthesia) because their nails can easily cause fatal injuries when they attack in self defence – they have known to rip open humans.

Newcastle disease that affects Emus world-wide can cause 100% mortality in affected flocks and can spread to all birds including domestic fowl/poultry and wild life. Transmitted to humans it results in conjunctivitis. Furthermore, like cattle, ratites can also get BSE, i.e. the “mad cow disease”.

Ostrich Farming

Ostrich fossils date back 25 million years and they are an older denizen of earth than humanity.

The Semitic and Babylonian cultures thought of ostriches as demons. Whereas, the ancient Egyptians felt ostriches were of spiritual and religious significance. Their feathers were associated with goddesses and they were said to have supernatural powers.

Ostriches, the biggest birds on earth (grow up to 9 feet tall) never literally hide their heads in sand! Instead, they run for their lives and can attack if provoked by mortal blows with the strength of their legs and sharp talons. The toothless ostriches have multiple stomachs and to digest their food they can swallow even 1 kg of stones that grind it in their stomachs.

It is sad that at the time when in countries such as UK ostrich farming had begun to be looked down upon as cruel, India formed the Forum on Technology for Ostriches to promote ostrich farming so that birds could be reared for three years and then killed for their products: meat called volaise (a novelty), fat (oil in cosmetics and for pain relief), hide (for fashionable leather accessories such as handbags, accessories, footwear, luggage, upholstery in luxury cars, and motorcycle seats), claws/nails (brooches), legs (ashtray stands), necks (narrow containers), eyes (as cornea transplants) and feathers (as non-static dusters in automobile and high-tech industries, quill pens, hats, fringes & trimmings, boas, apparel, accessories, fans, masks, soft toys, feather-pads & pinwheels, and bleached & dyed feathers for show business).

As under natural conditions ostriches live up to eighty years, 96.25 percent of their life span is cut short; put another way, they are allowed to live up to 3.75 percent of their natural life span. Farmed ostriches are subjected to stress and injuries especially when rounded up for slaughter as they are huge and highly-strung. A hood (old sock) is forced over their heads to render them blind when led to be killed.

In addition to feathers obtained from killed birds, during the moulting season, ostriches are gathered in a pen and burlap sacks are placed over their heads so they will remain calm while those feathers which are becoming loose are plucked out.

Ostrich skins are usually sold as “raw” or “crust”. The three stages of processing the skins are raw, crust and finished leather. The raw stage is of 15 steps ending with the “wet blue” process; the crust stage involves 10 steps like trimming, dyeing and drying; and during 11 steps of the last stage, the leather is softened and graded by centimetre since it is sold in small measurements like crocodile skins.

Zannone is a division of Darshanlal Rameshchand of Kolkata, which exclusively deals in genuine ostrich leather products like purses, bags, billfolds, wallets, attaché cases, gift sets, cosmetic cases, exclusive car seat covers, and leather for upholstery was started in the mid-1990s.

According to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) who promote the breeding and killing of many species of animals for commercial gain, ostrich farms are found in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, USA and France. Strangely, their website states: “Beauty Without Cruelty, international charitable trust for animal rights, Pune, have started campaign to oppose this venture. It is argued that India with its heritage of non-violence does not need to go in for business that involves killing of beautiful innocent birds for meat purpose to satisfy whimsical food faddists.”

Although NABARD continue to promote ostrich farming, this comment was posted after 1997 when BWC led a public protest in Bengaluru against the setting up of ostrich farming in India. This was soon followed by the then Chief Minister of Karnataka’s verbal assurance that “this government will not allow any projects that have the potential to harm the environment or cause disease” referring to the Congo fever problem in ostrich farming and the possibility of another bird flu case like in Hong Kong.

Beauty Without Cruelty, along with the local residents of the village of Shirur in Maharashtra carried out a successful public awareness campaign in July 1998 against the setting up of an ostrich farm with the help of a Belgian collaboration.


In 2014 BWC was very surprised to come across a news item which stated that the Delhi zoo’s maiden attempt to breed ostriches had failed. The eggs had been brought to the zoo from Thiruvananthapuram. BWC has written to the Central Zoo Authority and hopes that no zoo in the country will breed ostriches.

However, unless the Central Government once and for all lays down a policy against import and breeding for killing animals and birds, such exploitation will crop up every now and then in different states, making Beauty Without Cruelty’s task never-ending.

By 2015 ostriches were being raised for their skin, feathers and meat not only in Africa but around the world. Fashion designers were said to have begun prizing ostrich leather (some skins were dyed) as supple, durable and distinctive, with a texture and pattern created by raised quill follicles obtained from farms in countries such as Thailand where workers killed, plucked and skinned the birds by hand. But few knew that farmed ostriches show aggressive behaviour and are known to get irritated by the presence of people resulting in injuries to themselves.

Page last updated on 20/08/22