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‘If your emu (or any bird) has avian influenza, do not kiss it’: Owner of viral TikTok emu criticized for cuddling bird amid bird flu outbreak

The owner later revealed the emu was just stressed.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Oct 24, 2022

An emu who became TikTok-famous for interrupting his owner’s video is at the center of a heated debate about whether the emu should’ve been euthanized after a recent brush with avian influenza.

For months, Taylor Blake, who runs Knuckle Bump Farms, a small hobby farm in southern Florida, has been posting videos of the various animals on her farm on TikTok. But while Emmanuel the emu wasn’t the only emu on the farm, he was the most famous; he was especially fond of the camera; whenever he seemed to notice it, he ran over to examine it. Several videos showcasing this behavior garnered Blake millions of views on TikTok.

(Emmanuel is not to be confused with Karen, another TikTok-famous emu with a habit of trying to attack the camera and who sometimes is dressed up by her owner.)

But on Oct. 15, Blake announced that wild Egyptian geese that interacted with the farm’s birds had brought an outbreak of avian influenza, which had been deadly to the vast majority of the birds. Blake said that 99% of her birds had died and that Emmanuel seemed to have recently come down with the virus.

Throughout Blake’s thread, she shared several pictures of herself caring for the sick emu, including building him a sling to help him walk again after he obtained nerve damage in his right foot. In another photo, Blake places her head next to Emmanuel’s. In another video, she kisses Emmanuel’s head. Her pleas also went viral after asking the Irwins for help.

Blake’s thread takes a similar tone to other posts by the owners of beloved viral pets: It’s an update on a beloved animal that makes people happy, it shows her going above and beyond, and it asks for people to send energy and pray for him.

And while Blake garnered plenty of sympathy for Emmanuel’s recent health troubles, others were concerned by Blake’s actions. For them, it was a matter of safety: If a bird has avian influenza, people probably shouldn’t be trying to kiss it on the head lest they end up spreading the disease to other people; the virus can be spread through unprotected interactions with a bird’s saliva, nasal fluids, or feces. It’s also possible for Emmanuel to spread the disease to other birds passing through, or for people who visit the farm to pass it onward.

The general solution when an outbreak of bird flu occurs is to cull, or selectively kill, the infected birds.

As Blake’s story went viral, some people also pulled up old tweets in which she appears to post anti-Black sentiments.

In response to some concerns, Blake said that she and her girlfriend are complying with precautions recommended by the FDA and haven’t left the farm. 

“Emmanuel is completely isolated and we sanitize before and after entering and exiting his stall,” she tweeted. “Again, we have been fully compliant with the state. We know the risks and we are abiding by the rules put in place for our farm. Thank you for the love and concern!”

She added that she isn’t wearing a mask because the mask stresses Emmanuel out.

A day after a viral thread spelled out how Blake may have potentially broken Florida Department of Agriculture regulations around how to handle birds infected with avian influenza, Blake tweeted that Emmanuel didn’t have avian influenza and that he was stressed.

As events played out, Twitter poked fun at how online they sounded by trying to explain just what had transpired over the past week.

The Daily Dot reached out to Blake for comment.

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*First Published: Oct 24, 2022, 6:54 pm CDT