Beloved emu Big Lou dies after 25-plus years at intown Atlanta refuge

Big Lou the emu has died.

Lou, a longtime tenant of the Lake Claire Community Land Trust, passed away after a long illness, according to a Facebook post by the group.

“It is with a heavy heart to let you all know that our Big Lou the Emu has passed,” the post said. “He has been a staple at our Oasis in the City ... RIP Big Lou.”

The emu had lived at the greenspace refuge owned by the trust for more than 25 years. Community members who strolled through the space were welcome to visit him, too, watching and feeding him fruit through a fenced enclosure.

“He’s an icon,” said Sylvia Davis, a resident of Ormewood Park.

As a young mom of two rambunctious boys, 7 and 9, Davis heard from friends about a park-like space in the neighborhood with a ‘60s era vibe. She’d heard it had an outdoor gathering space with a fire pit, drum circles on occasion, a “peace pond,” a Japanese meditation garden, a sweat lodge — and an emu.

Her boys were entranced.

“He was big and scary looking, had these big round, orange eyes and this big scary beak and was like 6 feet tall,” she said. “But he was so gentle.”

“He had eyes the size of golf balls,” added Davis’ husband, Mark.

They continued visiting for years.

When Sylvia Davis told her now 21-year-old son that Lou was gone Saturday, he exclaimed in dismay.

“We’d bring a bag of grapes and feed Lou. It was just so cool,” she said.

“I had a friend from New Zealand who was like, ‘Oh, those emus are mean.’ I was like, ‘You haven’t met Lou.’”

To be clear, people should not generally approach emus. Britannica, an online blog by editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, lists emus in its “Six of the world’s most dangerous birds.”

“Emus can dash away at nearly 50 km (30 miles) per hour; if cornered, they kick with their big three-toed feet,” said the blog by John Rafferty. Emus’ toe claws are capable of doing terrible damage, butchering an opponent. Human attacks happen, though human fatalities are “extremely rare,” he said.

Even Lou’s shepherds warned people to step away immediately if the big emu appeared agitated.

For many of his years, that sign was posted at Lou’s enclosure letting visitors know about the warning, and also that he favored grapes, melon and strawberries.

But in recent months, another sign was there, saying Lou would not be coming out because he was ill.

Emus tend to live for 10 to 20 years in the wild, but can live up to 35 years in captivity, according to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Emus are native to Australia.

The announcement over the weekend of his death prompted a flood of posts from Lou’s visitors, expressing grief and fond memories.

“I really thought Big ‘Blue,’ as (my daughter) called him, would live forever,” said one social media poster, John Morgan. “Really sad about this. I feel like we need to do a communal celebration of life for Big Lou.”

Atlanta City Council member Liliana Bakhtiari also asked whether there would be a memorial service. “My heart is so sad,” she posted. “Grateful I got to spend so many years visiting him.”

Lisa Corley Anthony posted sky emojis and a picture of a chicken being carried off into the clouds by a rainbow umbrella.

“Fly high Big Lou ...” she wrote, “fly high!!”

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