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Welfare of emus during their handling and transport Raju Menon, Deepa


Emu (Dromaius novahollandiae) are native to Australia, but they are commercially farmed in many countries, including Canada, the US, and India. Currently producers transport their emus over long distances for slaughter due to the lack of processing facilities. During such shipments, emus are exposed to stressful and adverse conditions, causing welfare concerns. This study was undertaken to suggest methods to improve the welfare of emus during their handling and transport. Reference intervals were established for hematological, serum biochemical variables, enzymes and electrolytes in adult male and female emus. Changes in the indices of stress and metabolic homeostasis were used to evaluate the physiological responses of emus to transport for six hours under warm and cool weather conditions. The activities of enzymes were significantly (P < 0.001) increased at slaughter, indicating muscle cell wall damage. Transport under warm weather resulted in significantly (P < 0.05) higher weight loss, hyperthermia, hyperglycaemia, plasma corticosterone and packed cell volume, and meat pH than cool weather. Meat drip loss after 24 hours storage was greater in emus which had greater weight loss after transport. Oral administration of nutrient supplements (electrolytes, dextrose, and amino acids) pre- and post-transport was effective in protecting against muscle damage and recovery of body weight losses during lairage, but had little effect on meat quality. The clinical findings were suggestive of the incidence of exertional rhabdomyolysis in emus. Meat quality studies revealed the incidence of stress myopathy and dark firm and dry conditions. The important behavior categories and unusual behavior in emus were identified and described. Handling time greater than 8 minutes significantly (P < 0.05) increased the concentrations of corticosterone, glucose and enzyme activities in emus. The significant increase (P < 0.05) in the time spent on stereotypies such as pacing, fence pecking and reduction in grooming after transport seemed to be their response to stress. This study provided insight into the physiological and behavioral responses of emus to transport stress and the efficacy of oral supplements in alleviating the same. Identification of non-invasive indicators of stress from this study would aid to improve the management and welfare of emus.

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