Lifestyle & Belief

The tragic tale of Joschka the ostrich, and other stories


Ostriches wearing plastic guards over their beaks to prevent pecking and damaging their valuable skin, are seen at a farm in southern Israel in 2005. The farm, where some 10,000 birds are bred annually and slaughtered at the age of one year for their skin, feathers and meat, is the only one of its kind in Israel that exports almost all of its production to Europe, and is threatened with the loss of its international markets if the H5N1 Avian Flu virus strikes Israel.


David Silverman

BERLIN, Germany -- Once there was an ostrich, and his name was Joschka. Despite being named after the former German foreign minister, this was not a bird skilled in foreign relations -- particularly if by "foreign relations" you mean an aggravating South American bird known as Henry, with whom the ostrich got into a fight to the death today, claims Germany's Bild tabloid, said Der Spiegel.

"Yes, we had an accident. That is all I will say," a circus spokesman told Der Spiegel

Today's deadly bird-dual in the town of Gera dealt a blow to Germany's public broadcaster ZDF, which had cast Joschka to prance in front of Berlin's famous Adlon Hotel pulling an actress playing a popular flapper-era singer as part of its historical documentary on famous Berlin hotels, said Der Spiegel.

The ostrich scene was a re-creation of a famed 1926 photo taken in front of the historic Adlon Hotel, where a slew of famous people used to stay, among them Thomas Edison, Marlene Dietrich, and Charlie Chaplin, according to Der Spiegel

But Joschka's tragic end augurs in even more sobering news for the world's largest bird, with South Africa's Cape Times reporting today that some 8,000 ostriches have been butchered there over avian flu concerns. 

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Malaysia's Bernana news agency said the birds were killed in accordance with government policy, which requires that all animals be killed in the event of an outbreak. The birds were first found carrying the disease last year, and a European Union export ban has been in place since April. 

South Africa is the world's leading ostrich farmer and officials had recently expressed hope that the ban would be lifted after a few months in the clear, but a few weeks ago more infected birds were found, prompting the mass slaughter referred to by local farmers as a "stamping out policy," according to Cape Times

The head of South Africa's Ostrich Business Chamber, Piet Kleyn, told Cape Times that the birds were still being killed by way of “modified slaughter," a policy that he says won't solve the problem because the birds are native to the region. 

Nearly 50,000 South African ostriches have been killed since the disease first broke out there last year, said CNN, severely hurting an industry that usually brings the nation some $155 million a year.

Officials say the flu strain found in the birds will not harm humans, but there are concerns it could spread to the rest of the poultry population, said CNN