Why Was a Sanctuary Emu Shot Dead?

An emu named Mary was shot and killed by an unknown assailant last week. The why has not yet been determined. The reward offered to find Mary’s killer has just been increased to $5,000. And no, it won’t bring her back but it may help provide answers to why, how and who.

Mary’s Story

Mary was living at Rikki’s Refuge since 2006, a no-kill sanctuary in Orange County, Virginia. She was a shy bird who didn’t want to socialize with the other emus at the sanctuary, so she was given her own space with a goat called Gandolf who incidentally, didn’t like other goats. They became best friends.

Later on a pair of emus, Windy and Wonda, who were not comfortable with the already established emu herd, joined the pair.  Then a shy pig named Beau became the fifth animal to become a member of this unlikely multi-species family.  They spent some happy years together until January 7, 2014 when a bullet from places unknown shot into Mary’s leg, rupturing arteries, causing her to bleed out very quickly.

“Mary was very loving to the few humans she knew well,” said Kerry Hilliard, Executive Director and Founder of Rikki’s Refuge. “She’d come and rest her head on my shoulder and lean against me with her long neck.”

The Fateful Day

It was breakfast time and a staff member was about to feed the five member family when he received a call for help at the horse area at Rikki’s Refuge. He was gone no longer than 15 minutes and upon returning discovered Mary on the ground, barely breathing and lying in pools of her own blood.  His screams brought the medical team running but it was too late. Mary died quickly. The necropsy estimated she bleed out within 15 minutes from a gunshot wound.

You would think working at an animal sanctuary would not put you in harm’s way from humans with guns. Since Mary’s death, sanctuary staff is concerned about another incident of gunfire endangering not just the animal’s lives but the human caregivers as well.

When asked about staff reactions to the killing, Hilliard wrote, “It’s making it harder to fill the positions with people asking, ‘Could I get shot?’”

About Rikki’s Refuge

Rikki’s Refuge sits on about 400 acres of wooded land in Virginia’s Orange County. The central 100 acres are cleared for the sanctuary’s buildings and pens where the animals live and are cared for.

Just under 1,300 animals of 22 different species live there. Domestic animals include cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and iguana.  A lot of farm animals call it home; emus, pigs (both pot and farm), donkeys, horses, cows, goats, sheep and farm birds like chickens, ducks, geese, and so on are among them.

Generous donations have flooded in which has allowed Rikki’s Rescue to increase the reward from its original $1,000 to the current $5,000.

The sanctuary has five major programs including:

  1. Rescue, Adoption, Lifelong Shelter
  2. Spay/Neuter Education and Support
  3. Humane Education
  4. Safe Haven for Wildlife
  5. Maintaining the Biological Diversity of Virginia Flora and Fauna


Next page: The Investigation

Mary with Kerry Hilliard

The Investigation

Major Mike LaCasse, Chief Investigator for Orange County, says they are “working vigorously” to solve this case.  The problem is there are no leads and no known motive. “We don’t even have a direction [where the bullet was fired from] yet!”

Hilliard is pleased the investigators are actively working this case. She wrote they have been to the crime site many times working on trajectory and other clues.

Even though there are signs posted for “no trespassing” and “no hunting,” it seems hunters are still found on the grounds. With all roads leading to the rescue being a minimum of one mile long, who would not conclude that whoever shot Mary the emu did it with intent, not accidentally? Mary was not walking in the woods, she was shot in her penned-in area where she lived with her unique inter-species family.

Hilliard speculates:

We’ve had a lot of trespassing folks from just a very few families, several prosecuted, I’d venture to say it’s one of them.  We’ve never had any hostility towards any of our animals before.  It’s poaching, out of season hunting and so on that seems to make most folks trespass. And it is very few who do.

It’s repeat offenders that we keep catching over and over. Most of our neighbors and the people of Orange County are wonderful people. We don’t allow hunting on sanctuary property for any reason. Not only is this a sanctuary for animals, discharging firearms where there is a lot of activity, both human and owned animals is very dangerous.

Mary’s Memorial

Mary and the camera shy Beau

There is a cemetery on the grounds where many of the departed animals are buried. Unfortunately, this will not be Mary’s final resting place. Hilliard told me when a necropsy is performed the State of Virginia does not return the remains.

Many of the staff and volunteers who have been touched by Mary’s sweet and gentle nature are planning a memorial service. The plans have not yet been finalized.

Mary’s small family including Windy, Wonda, Gandolf and Beau has certainly been grieving; Beau more than everyone else. “Beau is especially taking it hard and will only eat when hand fed right now,” says Hilliard.

“Animals have all the same emotions we do and they are all grieving in their own way and miss their friend.  They also are now afraid, just like many of us are, looking over your shoulder, worrying about someone else sneaking up and shooting you,” wrote Hilliard.

Sweet Mary, rest in peace. Let’s hope the killer is found and prosecuted.

Related Care 2 Reading:

Dog and Goose Both hated Everyone Until They Found Each Other

Meet A Lucky Group of Rescued Animals Who Escaped Terrible Lives

10 Animals Who Stick Together For The Long Run

All photos of Mary courtesy of Kerry Hilliard

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brownabout a year ago

so sad but thanks for sharing, RIP Mary

Angela l.
angela l.1 years ago

Georgia G. My heart hurts as much as yours and my thoughts are aligned with yours. Anyone who kill any beings should be wiped out on the face of this planet as there's no room and no tolerance for such evil act!!

Angela l.
angela l.1 years ago

Poor and sweet Mary, I hope you rest in peace. I really hope they can catch that cold blooded, coward and bring him/her to justice!!!

Manuela C.
Manuela C.1 years ago

RIP Mary! =(

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B.1 years ago

Poor Mary - wish we could find the lowlife who did this to you and do the same to them.

Andrew C.
Andrew C.1 years ago

Just horrible. Hope they find the sick SOB's who did this and poor Mary gets justice. RIP Mary.

Georgia G.
Georgia a.1 years ago

I hope God has a special Hell for poachers. I am sick to death of hearing of the atrocities done to animals and it seems to be worsening. So frequently now I read of another group of animals being placed on the list headed for extinction and it saddens my heart as I know I cannot turn this trend around. The wanton manner in which animals are being slaughtered I forsee a time in the future when so many more species will be seen only in zoos and books. No more polar bears, elephants, chimps, gorillas, lions, orangutans....does the thought of their disappearance from this planet cause your heart to constrict as it does mine?

Virginia Abreu de Paula

I all be following this case. I really hope the criminal will be found. Just hope it's not somebody who works there.

Sonia Minwer Barakat Requ

So sad and disgusting,thanks for sharing