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Australian Dwarf Emu

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In France, in 1822, the last surviving Australian dwarf emu died.

Two distinct dwarf emu subspecies lived in splendid isolation on King Island and Kangaroo Island for thousands of years, developing variations, and growing to only half the height of their mainland cousins. The arrival on the two islands of European sealers and farmers led to a rapid and terminal decline.

Several emus from both islands were collected during the French scientific expedition to Australia (1800-1804) led by Nicolas Baudin.

The expedition gathered a range of antipodean animals and birds and a massive number of plants.

The plants and the surviving animals were destined for the lonely imperial splendour of the French Empress Josephine’s estate, Malmaison. Josephine had purchased Malmaison in 1799 when her husband Napoleon Bonaparte was campaigning in Egypt.

For the rest of her life, Josephine developed a magnificent garden including many plants from Baudin’s expedition. Roaming the gardens were various exotic creatures. Josephine’s particular favourites were a pair of Australian black swans. Amongst the menagerie were the emus from King Island and Kangaroo Island, living out their lives as the last of their kind at Malmaison and then at the equally grand Jardin des Plantes. 

Illustration of dwarf emus by Charles-Alexander Lesueur

Illustration of dwarf emus by Charles-Alexander Lesueur

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