Taylor Blake was just trying to film an educational TikTok video about farming when Emmanuel, an emu from her family’s Knuckle Bump Farms in Florida, started pecking at her phone. The mischievous bird has since become a viral sensation, but is now battling a deadly avian flu.
Blake tweeted Saturday that “a massive tragedy” struck the farm after wild Egyptian Geese began regularly swooping down and infecting the domesticated animals with avian influenza. That virus has since cost 99% of the farm’s birds their lives, with Emmanuel clinging on for dear life.
“We lost 50+ birds in 3 days,” Blake wrote. “I am still trying to wrap my head around it. We thought we were out of the woods, when Emmanuel unexpectedly went down this past Wednesday…I will do anything and go into any amount of debt to save his life.”
Blake’s TikTok videos typically begin as educational clips but are inevitably interrupted by the energetic emu, according to NBC News. They’ve garnered her 2.4 million followers and frequently show Emmanuel walking into her shot and pecking her iPhone from its stand as Blake warns, “Emmanuel, don’t do it!”
Blake, who lovingly refers to the emu as “Emmanuel Todd Lopez,” said she’s been treating the bird since Wednesday. She said her veterinarian managed to “sedate and stabilize” the 120-pound bird but that Emmanuel faces “a long road ahead” to fully recover.
The avian flu responsible has been spreading across the U.S. for months now, according to The Washington Post. Experts said it was the most serious outbreak since 2015 when a strain affected about 50 million birds. For Blake’s family, this year’s spread has wrought indescribable loss.
“I lost Emily, Eliza and Elliot,” Blake wrote. “The virus hit them extremely hard and very quickly. I tried my best to save them, but I was unsuccessful. We lost every single chicken and duck on our farm. We lost all of our geese. We lost our 2 female black swans. We lost both of our turkeys.”
Blake also mentioned that vaccinating birds for avian influenza was “relatively impossible” since the virus mutates so rapidly. She added Florida officials believe the standing water after Hurricane Ian made this year’s strain “run rampant.” Fortunately, Emmanuel has yet to stop fighting.
After a few stressful days and sleepless nights, Blake crafted Emmanuel a sling to begin physical therapy as he suffered nerve damage to his leg and foot following infection. This morning, Blake tweeted about the first signs of his recovery — to the cheers of rabid Twitter users.
“When I did my 6am checkin with Emmanuel, I had him positioned lying down facing the gate to his stall,” she wrote. “Just went back to do physical therapy with him and he was sitting up, completely turned around in the opposite direction. HE REPOSITIONED HIMSELF, BY HIMSELF! This is huge!”
As one follower online urged Emmanuel in the face of death: “DONT YOU DARE DO IT Emmanuel Todd Lopez.”