Monday, January 30, 2023

‘Not a Wile E Coyote kind of situation’: farmer recounts ostrich escape

After a 17-hour day of wrangling escaped ostriches, a Taber farmer says it felt like he had run a marathon. Parker Wood had an eventful day on Nov. 24, when 28 of his birds escaped from their enclosure and took a trip to town and the surrounding areas.

“We have a six foot bison wire fence, we have steel posts, so it’s a very strong fence but what happened is, it looks like a dog got into the enclosure and started chasing them and with these birds, they kind of run like a school of fish altogether and it looks like they ran right into the fenceline and they just toppled the whole fence down,” he said. “No matter how strong the fence is, it’s going to come down if you have got a lot of animals trying to escape it.”

Wood got a call around one in the morning telling him the ostriches were escaped. He said he loaded up a trailer and immediately went to work tracking them down and getting them home. All but one made it back to the farm by the end of the day. One died after being struck by a vehicle. This is when Wood realized the loose birds were a public safety hazard and he had to get them captured as fast as possible. 

“A lot of people have a lot of opinions on how to catch an ostrich,” Wood said. “Some people were saying you could throw a net over it, you could tranquilize it — I mean it’s not a Wile E Coyote kind of situation. These birds can run 70 kilometres an hour and at that time they are all spooked, so you can’t just walk up to them, offer them some food and then capture them.”

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The only way to capture an ostrich is to control its head, according to Wood. The birds can cause a lot of damage with their talons and kicking power. A video on social media shows Wood grabbing one of the birds by the neck from the passenger seat of an RCMP vehicle. He said it cut off the second part of the video, in which he controlled the bird by putting his tuque over its head to calm it down.

“You have to be careful, you can’t just run up the ostrich and grab it so I had to reach out the window of the vehicle and grab the neck of the ostrich to try and control it. The ostrich kept running so I did let it go and then he fell over and then within ten seconds we drove up and I had grabbed it outside the window,” Wood said. “There was only a few that had to be done like that because they were in town. The rest of them were out in farmers’ fields and we just had to walk up to them. A few of them we had to use a rope. You have to be very careful though with a rope. You can’t just run it around their neck because you can strangle them so you have to be careful how you place it and if you don’t get it right then you have to let the rope go.”

Wood had help from RCMP, Taber police and other farmers in the area who managed to hold the birds in their pastures. 

“The RCMP especially, they were very very helpful. They were going and locating them, they were making sure that everyone was out of harm’s way until we could get to that location. Some of them were standing and waiting with ostriches for an hour until we could get the other ostrich.”

Wood has been farming ostriches for about three years and has around 100 of them on his farm. He said he raised them from chicks to be exported to the United States, and also to be sold to people with hobby farms. 

RCMP reported there were still two ostriches on the loose yesterday, but Wood said they are all home now.

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